Over the past couple weeks I’ve talked about tips for writing your college essay for each of the Common Application prompts. If you haven’t seen the posts, here they are:
And while these tips can help anyone get started, writing the college essay is a tough gig. Students have to identify that one moment they feel says something of significance about them knowing that at least part of the decision being made on whether or not they are being admitted is riding on what they have to say and how they say it. To stand out in a crowded field of competitive applicants they often think that their topic has to be so over the top and out of this world but, as I tell my students all the time, what they really need to do is find a creative way to talk about everyday experiences that say something about their personality, character, drive, motivation, etc.
Let’s be honest here. It’s just not an easy thing to do.
And that’s why I’m relying on someone I both trust and respect to shed some additional light on how to make your college essay matter. Janine Robinson is the creator of one of my favorite websites, Essay Hell. She’s a journalist and English teacher who just gets it when it comes to writing college essays. Her philosophy is to treat the essay like a personal statement, keeping it specific, personal and conversational.
In the introduction to her new writing guide, Essay Hell’s Writing Survival Kit, she says the following:
“The best personal statements use what are called “slice-of-life” essays, which explore and share one part of a student’s life experience rather than trying to cover everything. The writing style is called “narrative” because it uses real-life stories to illuminate the writer’s personality, talents, skills, experience and character. The structure is less formal, the tone is lighter and the voice is familiar.”
And I couldn’t agree more. I tell my students all the time that the best approach they can take with their essay is to find a quality about themselves that can be showcased through a story. Not just any story, but rather a personal one that is enlightening and truly speaks to who they are as individuals.
Don’t just say you’re a problem-solver, use a specific example to show how you solved a problem.
Don’t just say you’re a caring person, show how you have gone out of your way to put others first.
From there, they need to be able to explain to the reader why this story and why this quality about them matters. This requires some reflection and analysis and can take some time to flesh out. But the result, a demonstration of deeper, more complex thinking, is what colleges are after.
If you’re struggling to get your essay off the ground, I highly recommend you check out Janine’s website, Essay Hell. She shares some great tips and advice and I promise the time you spend will be well worth it.
If you would like some assistance with your college search, contact me today for a free 60-minute consultation.