How to Write a College Essay (in 10 Steps)

Perhaps the only time a high school student would choose to read a book about writing college essays is when he or she is staring at rapidly advancing deadlines and doesn’t have time to.

Essay coach and professional writer Alan Gelb fully anticipated that scenario and offered up his advice in brief, digestible steps:  Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps.

Conquering the College Admission Essay

Cover photo, courtesy Alan Gelb.

Note:  he left out the word “easy” on purpose. These steps are logical and not insurmountable. (Hmm, would Gelb write “doable”? I don’t think so.)

“This is the time when you want to focus exclusively on that which is absolutely critical, eliminate anything that feels like padding, and simply get the job done in the best possible way as fast as you can.”

Where to start? Here are four things the college admissions essay needs:

  1. “The Once” — this is the specific time in which the essay narrative is situated. Think ‘once upon a time,’ when and where exactly is that?
  2. The Ordinary vs. the Extraordinary — what out of the ordinary thing makes this story worth telling?
  3. Tension and Conflict– no conflict equals no interest for the reader.
  4. The Point — at the end of it all, what’s the point? It doesn’t need to be as explicit as a moral from Aesop’s fables, but the writer should arrive at a conclusive point.

The ten steps Gelb describes are clear and fully explained, then reinforced by quick recap bullets at the end of each chapter. He recommends three or so edits plus a final polish, and he provides examples that illustrate the editing process within the text of the book, followed by more complete examples in the appendix.

Gelb presents a lively narrative; he has worked with many teen writers and he makes it sound like he’s enjoyed it. Perhaps that’s his ‘extraordinary.’ This all adds up to a fairly quick read and a good reference tool.

Title:  Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps

Recommend? Yes, and even better if M.S. Pete had read it.

Stars (out of 5):  5

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4 responses to “How to Write a College Essay (in 10 Steps)

  1. Pingback: Is it Rough Being a High School Senior? | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

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