Category Archives: college essay

It’s College Application Essay Writing Time. Fear NOT…

This week I started meeting with students to help them with their college application essays. It’s so interesting to see their different approaches to the essay. There seem to be two reasons that students are intimidated by this part of the process.

The first one is that they fear they don’t have anything to write about. That is never true.  You cannot live for 17 or 18 years and not have stories to tell. The real problem is that most students think they don’t have anything “good enough” to write about. Also not true. This essay is very simply a story that captures who you are and how you’ve grown into the person you are.

So if you get stumped here, fear not. Think about those moments in your life that have mattered to you. When did you learn something about yourself that you hadn’t yet realized? Slow down and let those memories simmer. There is power there. Embrace it and then grab a pencil.

If your memories don’t help you, start thinking about the objects in your room that are meaningful to you. What do they symbolize? Why are they important? Why do you keep them? And then get writing.

The other reason students dread the essay is because they have something they very much want to write about but they fear other people will not want them to write it (parents, this is usually you).

I cannot say this strongly enough. If you feel compelled to write about something, you must write exactly about that thing. Remember, you do not have to submit that essay but you really should explore the idea of it. All other topics are likely to fall much more flatly on the page until you’ve written what you want to write.

This is where parents get nervous. What if family secrets are revealed? What if parents look like the bad guys? Here is where I caution everyone to just relax. Remember that these essays are not being submitted to the Washington Post. They will only be read by a handful of people. Quite honestly, if the admissions panelists remember your essay then you have done a very, very good job. Most of the essays they read are sadly quite forgettable.

Also, when students write these essays, they are rarely about what parents fear they will be about. They focus on the student’s journey and reactions. They are quite often amazing.

I once had a student who wanted to write about her relationship with her brother. Her parents said she could not write it because her brother faced unique challenges that were hard on the family. I never spoke to her parents so I don’t know what their specific hesitation was but I encouraged the student to write two essays. The one her parents wanted her to write and the one she wanted to write. (And then I encouraged her to share both essays with her parents before deciding which one to submit.)

Guess which one was better?

The first one was about her experience of giving speeches and it read like a list. Basically–I gave this speech, I gave that speech. I learned I can give a great speech.

The second was about playing a game with her brother. It captured a specific moment when her brother had a reaction that was hard to handle. The essay wasn’t about her brother but about her. There was absolutely no judgment in the essay at all–not about her brother, not about her parents, and not about herself. It highlighted a moment of clarity, a time when she was able to see her brother and herself in new ways. It was a beautiful story and I remember it all this time later–even after reading hundreds and hundreds of other essays. It is one of the few that sticks out in my memory.

The bottom line is that you cannot edit a blank page. So get busy writing. The magic of writing happens in revision anyway. You have at your disposal trash cans, erasers, and delete buttons. You alone have control over what you send out into the world. So just write, revise, and decide later what to do with it.

 

College Essay Writing Tips Series

Since so many students are stressing about their college essays, I’ve decided to write a series of College Essay Writing Tips. The links to each post can be found below:College Essay Writing Tips - the full list

Tip # 1 Helpful Revision Techniques

Tip # 2 We Are All Beginners at Some Point

Tip # 3 The Writing Process

I will update this page as new posts are published.

Best of luck with your essay and keep writing!

College Essay Writing Tip #2 – Remember We Are All Beginners at Some Point

pen and paperThis might be the most important tip that I will share with you because it speaks to confidence. Believing you can write a great essay is the very first step to writing a great essay. Measured confidence can take you pretty far because you won’t be afraid to fail. You’ll just dust yourself off and sharpen your pencil again.

The beauty of the college essay is that it remains hidden until you decide to release it into the world. If you hate what you’ve written, you don’t have to submit it. It’s that simple. So go for it!

You must remember that writing is like anything else. Baseball players don’t show up at The World Series final game without practicing (a ton). Pianist don’t show up at Carnegie Hall without practicing (a ton). Teachers don’t show up to the classroom – Doctors don’t show up for surgery – Magicians don’t show up to the stage – Preachers don’t show up to the pulpit without a ton of preparation.

When you sit down to write your essay, remember that you are very likely a beginner. This means that it might be challenging in ways you didn’t expect. Just keep writing and revising. You will get there!

Here is what Ira Glass has to say about being a beginner…

So trust your writerly instincts and get busy creating that first draft!

P.S. For the full list of college essay writing tips, click here.

College Essay Writing Tip #1 – Helpful Revision Techniques

For the next few blog posts, I’ll be writing about the dreaded college application essay. Most students not only dread it, but actually fear it.

That’s because a blank piece of paper is scary. college essay writing tips monster under the bed

No, really. It’s worse than monsters under the bed even. How do you transform nothing into the most amazing story ever (and in 500 words or less)?

Not everyone can afford to hire an essay tutor, so here are some things to think about.

Write two drafts before you show it to anyone. The first draft will never be your best work. Magical writing happens in revision.

Read your essay out loud. Trust me. This is an amazing (and very inexpensive) way to find inconsistencies, over-used words, and grammatical errors.

Have some one else read your essay. After they read it, ask them these questions:

  • Where in the essay did you stop or slow down reading?
  • Did you stop because you liked what you read and you wanted to read it again?
  • Or, did you stop because you were confused?
  • What do you remember most about my essay?
  • What did you like the least about my essay?
  • After reading this, what is one word you would use to describe me? (This will speak to the theme of your essay. Here you can see if what you were trying to get across is actually what the reader took away from your essay.)
  • Are there any questions that my essay made you wonder about but didn’t answer?
  • Did I fully address the question(s) in the prompt?

These questions will help you see the strengths and weaknesses in your essay. It’s important to remember that this is not a time to explain to the reader why things were or were not the way they seemed. It’s a time to reflect on what the reader’s take-away was and if that was your intention. Remember that you will not have the opportunity to “explain” any aspect of your essay to the review committee. It will have to stand on its own.

Then revise, revise, revise.

Happy Writing (and revising!)

P.S. For the full list of college essay writing tips, click here.