How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#15 of 25)

“Reading begets writing.” Quasi-biblical tone aside, this means that, at every level and in every format, the more a student reads, the better his or her writing will become. Advanced writers of fiction are invariably voracious novel readers. Journalism students devour newspapers; poets consume Frost. Increased exposure to any type of writing will develop a student’s own skills in that area, which is why Step Fifteen is another important way to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done.

Step #15. Read personal essays by masters of the form.

During the writing of your college application essay, it is extremely helpful to steep yourself in the form by reading at least one essay every day, written by an accomplished writer. If you’re the type of person who would benefit by taking notes on the techniques you see exhibited, then by all means do so. If not, the mere act of reading the essays will heighten your awareness of what a good one looks and sounds like. There’s a certain mystical quality to how it happens, but it is undeniable.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of writers who are currently writing outstanding, and often entertaining, personal essays.

  • David Sederis
  • Sloane Crossly
  • John Jeremiah Sullivan
  • Sarah Vowell
  • John D’Agata
  • Cynthia Ozick
  • George Saunders
  • Meghan Daum
  • David Shields
  • Marilyn Robinson

Here, in no particular order, is a list of writers who are considered masters of the form.

  • E.B. White
  • John McFee
  • Joan Didion
  • James Baldwin
  • Susan Sontag
  • Norman Mailer
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Nora Ephron
  • Henry David Thoreau

The above lists are nowhere near complete. There are many wonderful essayists working online today (a blog, in some cases, is a personal essay), new and old collections available at your local library or bookstore. Magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic feature personal essays in every issue and there are many websites and online magazines that publish essays on every subject. The material is there, go forth and read it.

For more personal help with the Common Application essay, supplemental or any other college application essays, please contact Craig Heller at, or 818-340-1276.

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