How to craft your college essay: lessons from the College Board

I know…you’re kicking yourself now. Senior year is starting next week and you haven’t written your college application essay. Where did the summer months go?

That’s why I’ve been blogging about it for months. The purpose was to get you off your duffs and get you to start writing.

So here’s what I want to know:

*Have you reviewed the 5 Common Application prompts?
*Do you have a solid topic for the essay?
*Do you know how you want to begin it?
*Can you write this story in 650 words or less — here’s a newsflash, if you go over the maximum word count the software won’t let you submit.
*Have you interviewed your mother, father and siblings to see if they have anything to offer for your essay?
*What have you actually written so far? Nothing?

Ok, then here’s an assignment:
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An example of a lovely essay

I just came across this essay (“A Heartbroken Temp at”) and thought I’d share it with you.

Though the topic is not one that would likely be used for a college application, it is an example of a story that has a strong beginning and thoughtful ending with a tone that inspires sympathy and empathy.

When writing your college essay, try to stir emotion in your reader. The story will be more compelling and memorable.

Writing an essay with emotion requires self-exploration. Brainstorm topics by bouncing ideas off your parents, siblings, friends and extended family. Try to recall an incident that taught you something or made you come to terms with a reality.

Don’t be afraid to use humor. Don’t avoid writing about heartbreak. Don’t be shy about writing about victory, leadership, and success. As long as you write well and stay genuine, your essay will touch a chord in your reader.

College essays are being edited this week

Six rising seniors are working on their college essays this week after taking my workshop on Aug. 3 entitled “Brainstorm your college essay.”

Their story topics are all compelling and genuine — the essence of a good essay. The group did a writing exercise by describing their bedrooms in detail to get ideas flowing and we delved into their lives a bit to uncover their interests and passions.

Some are writing about the contrast in cultures they’ve experienced growing up in ethnic households. Others are writing about coping with loss or disappointment. Each is illustrating a period of growth and maturation as they found resolution. They are showing their resiliency and willingness to persevere.

Put yourself in the shoes of a college admissions officer. What would you look for in a freshman candidate? College requires endurance, time management and social skills, and flexibility. An admissions officer wants to admit students who will succeed on campus.

The students and I are in the draft editing phase. After my workshops I read the students’ first drafts and make comments and suggestions.

If you need help, just ask by emailing me at

Another brainstorming workshop on tap; SOLD OUT!

I’ll be holding another college essay brainstorming workshop tomorrow and I can’t wait to meet my students.

With only six available seats, the workshop is full.

The students are all rising seniors on their way to bright futures. My role is to help them get over one hurdle — the college essay.

The essay gives them the opportunity to define themselves and to highlight what makes them a unique asset to the college of their choice. It takes thoughtfulness and a few written drafts to get to your kernel of truth. Understanding yourself and your value is a powerful tool for a successful life. If you nail that at age 17 or 18, you’ve got a head start.

This is why I’m always so excited to lead the workshops. I love seeing that self-realization surface in young people and I enjoy helping them capture it in words.

If you’re struggling to find a topic for your college application essay, check back here for more writing insights from the College Essay Confidante.

If you’d like to participate in one of my three-hour workshops, just let me know.