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:

•Write a paragraph about yourself revealing something few people know.

(Do you sing in a heavy metal rock band on weekends, perform belly dances in a nearby city, twirl a mean baton, or write poetry in your bedroom when everyone else is asleep? You don’t have to share this with anyone. Just write it for yourself.)

•Read it over several times.

•Revise it.

•Add to it.

(Think about what you’ve just learned about yourself and see if there’s some kernel of truth that can be turned into an essay.)

Here’s a helpful article posted on the College Board’s website. The title is “8 tips for crafting your best college essay.” It’s adapted from the book, “The College Application Essay,” by Sarah Myers McGinty.

Who better to give you tips on how to write the college essay than the College Board?

I recommend everything in this article.

I take exception with one tip: The article suggests having one other person read your essay for errors. I recommend you ask everyone in your family to read it, as well as other trusted individuals. Ask them to remark on tone, accuracy, content flow, grammar, and typographical errors.

Leave yourself enough time to make the corrections and submit it in perfect condition.

Here’s another helpful article from April 2013 that also offers excellent essay examples. It’s titled “Getting personal: writing college essays for the Common Application,” by Amanda Christy Brown and Katherine Schulten. This is a New York Times “Learning Network” blog post designed to help workshop facilitators plan peer to peer and writing exercises. The article suggests activities similar to what I do in the College Essay Confidante workshops. The article suggests a “speed dating” exercise in which students form an inner and outer circle inside the workshop meeting room. Students in the outer circle travel to their left. With each new move, the workshop facilitator is told to read another of the college essay prompts and have the students discuss it with each other. One student will play the role of listener and the other will speak. The roles then shift.

This is a wonderful ice breaking exercise. Unfortunately, my workshop meeting rooms aren’t always big enough to do this precise exercise, so I ask my students to partner with the person on their right or left and share information about themselves. But first we go around the room and introduce ourselves. Then we read the application prompts and briefly discuss which is preferable for the individual students. Most choose prompts that encourage the writer to tell a story about himself. After all, the essay is meant to help you introduce yourself to a college admissions officer. Why not take advantage of this platform?

We also go over several samples of successful college essays and we examine the first and final drafts of some to show the students how revisions can improve a story.

By the end of my workshop, students have at least the first paragraph of their essays written. They then have the option of writing a draft and submitting it to me within a specified deadline — usually within a week — for suggested edits.

I love helping students reach for their dreams and hearing the results of their college application experiences.

So get that essay written sooner than later and put your best foot forward.

Remember the College Essay Confidante’s motto: Brainstorm, Write, Edit, Submit.

The process is simple the work is hard.

cropped-cropped-JoycePhoto.jpgJoyce Pellino Crane is the former editor of the Westford Eagle and Littleton Independent, community newspapers covering two towns northwest of Boston. Prior to that, she spent a decade as a Boston Globe correspondent covering everything from business innovation to Main Street news. She is the recipient of a 2015 Best of GateHouse award for editorial writing and the Westford Eagle received an honorable mention in GateHouse’s “Newspaper of the Year” category. For five  consecutive years beginning in 2011, Crane won New England Newspaper and Press Association first prize awards in numerous categories, including editorial writing. She holds a master’s in business administration with a concentration in marketing from Suffolk University in Boston where she was the recipient of a merit-based fellowship award.

This blog post is the result of a course assignment for a NorthWestern University Coursera online course entitled “Social Media Marketing.”

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