How to write college essays: Help from Essay Hell and 7 other treasures.

Chromatic typewriter by Tyree Callahan.

Chromatic typewriter by Tyree Callahan.

So. We’re way past the summer midpoint. The calendar, reminders, counselors, and parents are all saying, “write your essays!” What’s the high school senior to do?

At the risk of providing another route to procrastination, here’s help:

1.  Check out Essay Hell. As an example, read How Will They Dub You? Your essay can make you memorable, or you can be one more kid who tore her ACL playing soccer. (Hat tip: College Solution)

One student wrote about how he loved tying knots, but got stuck in a tree when one of his knots tightened on him. “How about that kid who got stuck in the tree?”

2.  Read Alan Gelb’s book, Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps. Here’s why.

3.  After spending years writing essays according to the five paragraph standard–thesis, three paragraphs of support, conclusion–many students find it tough to switch to writing about themselves. Ask yourself some of these questions, via College Admission’s The Real Topic of Your Essay is You:

  • What would I say about myself if I had to omit any mention of my extracurricular activities?
  • If I, like Tom Sawyer, had a chance to eavesdrop at my own funeral, what would people say about me?

4.  I’m sure you’ve already taken a look at the new Common App prompts, right?

5.  And you’ve looked at the supplementary essay questions from colleges on your short list? Here are this year’s prompts from UVa (our local public university). Find others via each college’s admissions site.

6.  See tips from Allen Grove for the new Common App questions.

Note the key word here: evaluate. You aren’t just describing something; the best essays will explore the complexity of the issue.

7. Or, read Irena Smith’s post for College Admission, Writing the Essay: Pushing the Right Brick for Diagon Alley, for help on how to “Stand out by being you.”

Do some data gathering: see if your friends can finish the sentence “I have this friend who…” I guarantee you they will not say things like “has strong leadership skills.” They may, however, come up with stuff like “talks nonstop,” “drives like a maniac,” “tells the most annoying jokes during cross country practice,” “is freakishly good at Words with Friends,” or “eats like a defensive lineman.” Those are all fantastic jumping off points. Use them.

8.  Step back into Essay Hell for How to Find Your Defining Qualities. “I know it always helps to have a list to get you started.”

Able, Accepting, Accurate, Achieving, Adaptable, Adorable, Adventurous, Affectionate, Alert, Alive, Altruistic, Amazing, Ambitious, Analytical, Appreciative, Appealing, Artistic, Assertive, Astonishing, Attentive, Attractive, Authentic, Aware, Awesome, Balanced, Beautiful, Blissful, Blooming, Bold, Bountiful, Brave, Breath-Taking, Bright, Calm, Capable, Careful, Carefree, Caring, Cautious, Centered, Certain, Charitable, Charming, Cheeky, Cheerful, Chirpy, Civic-Minded, Clean, Colorful, Competetive, Clear-Thinking, Communicative, Compassionate, Compatible, Competitive, Complete, Confident, Conscientious, Considerate, Conservative, Consistent, Content, Co-operative, Courageous, Conscientious, Courteous, Creative, Cuddly, Curious, Cultural, Cute…

Yes. It goes on from there.

9.  Here’s an important point from Collegewise in, Is this experience your best story?” Topics discussed in your college essays should always share new information that a college can’t learn from the application alone.”

10.  College advisor Alice Kleeman offers specific help in Advice for Students on Topics for the New Common App Essays, writing for College Admission, with academic, extracurricular, and personal questions related to each prompt.

Are you resisting the pressure in your community to do it all—and do it all perfectly—and instead are seeking balance in your life?

Were you ever told by a coach or activity director that you would not be successful in a particular activity, yet you chose to pursue it?

Has your ethnic background led you to participate deeply and fully in the dance, spiritual, or culinary traditions of your culture?

Enough of this already. Go write.

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4 responses to “How to write college essays: Help from Essay Hell and 7 other treasures.

  1. Pingback: College Essay Boot Camp and the Unbearable Feeling of Letting Go - SoCal Mom by Donna Schwartz Mills | SoCal Mom by Donna Schwartz Mills

  2. Pingback: 10 things high school seniors should be doing now | iteam212

  3. Pingback: 3 Quick Tips for Completing the Common App (including this most important one: take it slowly). | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

  4. Pingback: Who writes the essay? Doonesbury weighs in. | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

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