College Counseling & Planning      Orleans, MA. (774) 801-2449      Ashland, OR. (541) 488-0919
Thank you so much for all your kind, expert and wise help with Greer's and Wynn's college search and application...more
--Phil Michael, parent of Greer, University of San Francisco, 2012; Wynn, Stanford University, 2014

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THE ESSAY IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO IMPRESSBy this time in the college application process what is done is done. Your GPA isn't going to change very much, your standardized tests are duly recorded, you can't cram in any more extra curricular activities, hopefully letters of recommendation are written and your guidance counselor knows who you are. So what is left for you to do to tip the scales of admission and soften the hearts of the admission officers?

The essay is the one last requirement that is totally within your control. Many of you will spend most of your winter vacation writing essays that seem pointless to you. I suspect that most of you will not be very happy about it, but I encourage you to put as much effort into this endeavor as you can. It can pay dividends. Here are a few tips to help:

How do you start?

  • Writing college essays takes time - accept that fact. A last minute essay will look and read like a last minute essay.

  • Get organized. Make a list of the essay questions from each college and determine if there are any crossovers. Pay attention to the wording of the prompt, although there maybe some similarities, rarely can you totally substitute one essay for another.

  • Spend some time thinking. Make notes about who you are and what you think, experiences you have had, and what you have accomplished.

  • Brainstorm with parents, counselor, friends and others about potential topics.

  • Choose a topic carefully. You want one that will best answer the question while giving the reader a better picture of you.

  • Write a rough draft, put it away for a day. Go on to the next essay.

  • Revisit the essays. Re-read them for content, length and adherence to the question.

  • Write another draft, and another, and another ---proof read, proof read, and proof read.

How do you decide what to write?

  • Focus on an aspect of yourself that would prove interesting to someone else.

  • If writing about a hardship, show how you overcame it.

  • Don't make up a hardship. A difficult situation or project will do. Tell how you handled it and what you learned from it.

  • Write about a single incident that helped you to learn something about yourself.

  • If you write about foreign travel tell what you learned about the culture and how the experience helped you to see the world and yourself in a different way. Don't give the itinerary.

  • Stay focused on the topic, don't ramble - you will put the reader to sleep.

  • If you write a shopping list of events, travels, books, it will be boring.

  • Show, don't tell - be specific, not vague and general.

  • Keep checking to make sure you answered the 'HOW' and the 'WHY' part of the question.

What do they want?

  •  In a nutshell, they want to know more about you. They are looking to put a face and a personality to your application.

  • They want to know what you think, how you think and most important that you DO think.

  • Readers will be looking for the way you organize your essay, the words you choose to convey your thoughts, and how you present your achievements and your plans for the future.

  • The admission committee wants to see how self aware you are and your potential for growth.

  • Although your essay won't be presented to the Pulitzer Prize committee it is important to use words you would normally use (probably not SAT vocabulary!) and proper grammar. Check your spelling - and not just with spell check, have someone edit your essay.

  • Don't try for perfection - it will look like your mother wrote it!

Make the most of this opportunity.

Judith Christie
College Planning Consultants