Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

College Application Essays:
30 Minutes to Great

College Application Essays: <br/>30 Minutes to Great

You can write a winning college admissions essay. You have it in you. Your story is already in your head. The trick is to get it out of your head onto the page.

Better still, getting it onto the page doesn't have to be much of a trick. In fact, you can be ready to write in about 30 minutes.

College Application Essays: Your Chance to Be You.

Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you've done—or left undone—the college admissions essay is an opportunity to tell the story of you in exactly the way you want to.

Has your high school experience been hampered by a family crisis? Your college essay can tell that story. Have you spent more time than most people might believe pursuing an unusual hobby? Your essay can showcase that, too. Maybe you’re not sure where to begin. Maybe you're not sure you even have a story worth telling.

You're in a good company: A lot of your peers feel exactly the same way.

Take Your Essay from Meh to Marvelous.

In my work as a college admissions coach, I’ve encountered students who think they have nothing interesting to say, and students who can’t choose between all the things they want to say. I’ve seen disastrous essays turned to essay gold, and good essays elevated to great ones—all through the application of a few basic techniques.

Here’s the best news of all: These techniques are simple, easily applicable, and don’t take a lot of time. And when you’ve got a million things to do for college applications on top of a busy school year, time is one thing you don’t have to waste.

Step One: Start with the Basics of Essay-Writing.

So I promise not to waste your time, which means I won't get into all the nitty-gritty mechanics of how to write an essay. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to operate under the assumption that you understand how to structure a clear, focused essay. I’m going to assume you know that all essays should break down into this basic framework:

An introduction that ends with a statement of your main point. (That’s your thesis statement.)
A body consisting of a series of paragraphs that develop your main idea using relevant examples and analysis of those examples. (Those are your supporting evidence.)
A conclusion that sums up your essay in fresh language—and leaves your reader with something to think about.

(By the way, if you’re not clear on any of these aspects of essay-writing, I've written a book about that, too. It offers a step-by-step plan that takes you through the process of how to think about, and then write, an essay that’s carefully-conceived, well-organized, and persuasive.)

In some ways, the essay you write for your college application isn’t so different from all of the essays you’ve been forced to write in school. As you can see from my brief outline above, every essay follows a basic “formula.” This common structure allows for a logical development of your main point, no matter what topic you’re writing about. It also keeps your reader from getting lost.

Likewise, the college essay—just like the essays you write for school—is for your reader. Let me repeat that: Your college essay is for your reader. That’s right. Whether you’re writing for a teacher, or writing for some faceless admissions officer, you want to write in a way that:

Captures your reader’s attention.
Shows your reader where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there.
Keeps your reader oriented along the way as you unfold a logical, compelling progression of ideas.
Sells your point to your reader. In other words, presents your idea in a way that brings your reader over to your point of view.

It may sound too good to be true, but keeping the following two essay-writing fundamentals in mind, no matter what kind of essay you’re writing, will elevate your essay above many:

• Think about structure.
• Think about your reader.

Writers who do never fail to stand out—and we haven’t even gotten into the real “secrets” of good writing yet!

So what’s the difference between writing for school and writing for a college application? The short answer: subject matter. In school, you’re often charged with writing about someone else, or someone else’s ideas. For your college essay, you’re writing about you. You are the hero of this story. You are the protagonist of your own journey. Yes, colleges know something about you from the scores and grades they see on your transcript. But your essay gives you the opportunity to present yourself in three dimensions.

College Application Essays: The Power of First Impressions

Speaking of three-dimensional you, let’s take a step back from the college essay for a moment and talk about your hairstyle. Or the clothes you’re wearing right now. If you give your hair or your clothes any thought, then you definitely care about the way others perceive you. The way you choose to look telegraphs something about you: cool, nerdy, preppy, goth, edgy, punk, or fashionable.

Admissions officers won’t see your piercings, or the outfit you spent so much time assembling. But they will see your words on the page. And just like a really good—or really bad—haircut, those words convey a message. A first impression. So before you begin writing, think carefully about how you want to come across.

One student I know chose to focus his college essay on his parents’ rocky divorce. Although his essay immediately telegraphed resilience, there was an underlying problem. Yes, this student managed to convey that he’d made it through a difficult family situation. But his essay also oozed bitterness and anger. By the end of the 650 words, his resentment was more palpable than his strength, leaving admissions officers to wonder what kind of a student, classmate, and roommate he might be.

So before you even begin thinking about your story, before you contemplate the life lesson you plan on put-ting to paper, think—and then think again—about first impressions. Think about the person you want to be on the page. If you were to interview at your top choice school, you’d definitely check a bad attitude at the door. Be careful that the same bad attitude doesn’t inadvertently come seeping out when you start putting down words in the form of an essay.

One other note about first impressions: Above all, be genuine. Many students I’ve worked with have told me they want to be funny—when in real life, they’re not all that funny. Or they want to come across as wise beyond their years—when wisdom isn’t a quality they’ve really developed yet. So as you think about the person you want to be on paper, be true to you.

I can’t emphasize this point enough. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t put on an act. Pick your best quality and go with it. If you’re whip-smart, by all means, use those big vocabulary words (but do look them up first—just in case). If you’re a lyrical writer, feel free to be poetic (within reason). If confidence is your game, then put yourself out there—just beware of the confidence that starts to come across as swagger.

Remember: College admissions officers have read thousands of essays. Spotting fakers is second nature to them. But so is responding to an essay that comes from the heart. Let the best parts of who you are shine through, and you’ll be well on your way to a stand-out essay.

30 Minutes to Essay Greatness

Perhaps you know all of this already. Many students who come to me for essay help do. They know the fundamentals of good essay-writing. They know who they are and what they want to convey. They’ve even considered the Common Application essay questions, and they’ve decided on the story they want to tell about themselves.

So why do they come to me? Because they’re not sure how to tell that story. Surely writing the college essay can’t be as simple as putting down the details of their epic failed science experiment, can it?
The bad news is: No, writing the college essay—even though you’re telling a story about yourself—isn’t that simple.

The good news is: I can show you how to turn that landmark personal experience into an essay that both tells a story, and catches an admissions officer’s eye.

How long will it take?

A mere 30 minutes.

I’m not saying that it will only take you 30 minutes to write your essay. Writing takes time. Good writing takes more time. But I can promise that with 30 minutes of the right kind of preparation, you can write a better essay more quickly—and with more confidence that the end result is something you’ll be proud to send off to your top colleges.

Even better, if you can give me an additional 30 minutes after you finish writing, I can show you how to take that well-thought-out essay from good to great. And if you’re looking to compete with the best and the brightest, a final 30 minutes of precision polishing will elevate your college essay to the winner’s podium.

No, a college essay alone won’t get you into your top choice college. But a great college essay can help you stand out in an increasingly competitive college admissions landscape. And like I said, all it takes is 30 minutes—starting now.

How to write an essay Jenny Sawyer Your College Coach Amazon


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