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College Application Essay Writing Advice From Stephen

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College Application Essay Advice for the Desperate

For the first official post in what I hope will become a regular blog for this site, I’d like to give some suggestions and writing tips to high school seniors out there who are struggling to find inspiration for their college application essays. I know from years of experience that there are a lot of procrastinators here in California who are still working on essays for their UC applications. which are due by midnight tonight. USC applications for students who want to be considered for scholarships are due tomorrow (postmarked by tomorrow if you’re snail-mailing your application).

Camilla is shocked that you still haven’t finished your essays.

First, read my handout “Suggestions on How to Write College Application Essays .”

If you’re experiencing word constipation (aka “writer’s block”), here are a few suggestions to help get you unblocked:

  • Start with a “freewriting” approach; don’t jump directly into writing your ideas in essay form. Premature drafting is one of the most common mistakes young writers make. The effort of forcing your ideas into a specific structure makes you second-guess every word. Since your initial goal is to get your thoughts flowing, just let them come out naturally in whatever form they want to take—a disconnected paragraph, unpunctuated and ungrammatical phrases, a description of a scene, a narrative account of an experience, a list of possible topics. Worry about structuring your ideas later.
  • Write in a place that helps you focus and think creatively. For you, maybe that’s a quiet place, maybe it’s a place that is associated with many memories, maybe it’s a place with beautiful scenery.
  • Force yourself to avoid distractions like Facebook and games. For brainstorming, consider getting away from your computer completely and just writing ideas on paper. Hopeless Facebook junkies should have a friend or family member create a new password and keep it secret.
  • Stimulate your memory and creativity with sensory aids. the smell of your favorite food or a significant place, the sound of a song that’s especially meaningful to you. (Emo should probably be avoided, however.)
  • Tap into your passion and then channel it into your writing. Try singing and dancing (preferably not at random in public) or playing an instrument to kickstart your emotions.
  • Take a break and do something physically invigorating. If at some point you hit another wall, go for a walk, shoot some hoops, or fight with a sibling.
  • Talk it out. If you just can’t write anything, try talking through your thoughts and recording them, then listening to your recording and transcribing the good ideas and sentences.

Once the ideas and words start flowing, don’t interrupt them by worrying too much about staying within the length limits. You can always find things to cut out after writing a draft; what’s critical is that you have substantial, memorable material and that you not waste any words. In my thirteen years of experience helping students develop and polish their college application essays, I’ve never had a student who wasn’t better off taking this approach. It’s amazing how much extraneous and redundant material creeps into even a good writer’s first draft, and if you force yourself to trim your writing down, you’ll be left with a dense essay that packs a greater punch. (Also, I recently read a New York Times article suggesting that the Common Application ‘s 500-word limit is not strictly enforced. Colleges are not notified if the essay exceeds the limit, though they’ll surely figure it out for themselves if you give them a War and Peace or a Moby Dick —or my favorite back pain-inducing epic, The Baroque Cycle .)

Finally, two points can’t be overemphasized:
1. Include concrete, specific details and examples. Anyone can barf up the platitudes and clichés about going to college that everyone has heard before. Your job is to convince the people reading your essays that your interest in their school, your passion for learning, and your aspirations are sincere. In writing, truth often takes the form of specific details, and BS (ahem. “boring stuff”) is often disguised as vague generalities. General statements are an important element of essay writing, but be sure to back them up with something substantial.
2. Write with feeling. Don’t go to Jersey Shore melodramatic extremes, of course, but make sure you express your passion for life and learning and that any personal stories you use convey real emotion. A tepid, ho-hum essay will be easily forgotten amidst thousands of other essays. Again, focusing on concrete details will help you achieve this goal.

Here’s another resource that might be helpful to those reading this post: A Washington Post article entitled “7 college admissions myths .” Pay particular attention to this part:

6. Essays don’t really matter much in the end because grades and test scores are so dominant in admissions decisions.

Don’t believe it. A poorly written, typo-filled essay can kill any application, and a beautiful piece can lift a student over another who looks similar on paper.

I hope this advice is helpful. As someone who has shared the pain of college applications with many students, I can empathize with your plight.

In the future, I might be available to give feedback on college application essays for people I’m not currently tutoring. Anyone who’s interested can contact me by e-mail here .

Good luck! Now stop wasting time reading blogs, and go get it done.

Other articles

What Not to Do on College Application Essays

What Not to Do on College Application Essays Writing College Application Essays Three Things You Shouldn't Do

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Stephen Wilburs called writing college application essays one of those "quintessential experiences" that "from time to time in the history of our country we as a people undergo certain rituals that remind us of what it is to be Americans." [1774] While these words hang significance on one small part of a college application, it is not an exaggeration to say that a college application essay can make or break the overall college application.

I can remember over twenty years ago applying for college and I have no memory of what I put in my college application. I did get into my (non Ivy League) school of choice, however. Half a dozen years later I would be working in a university admissions office where we would shake our heads at and pass around those college application essays that were written terribly or that bordered on psychotic (just before those applicants were denied admission). I'm finally on the other end of process, as a parent of a high school sophomore who is already worrying about SATs, AP exams and, yes, the college application essays she'll have to write. So this article is for her and for parents like me. There are many online resources that can show you how to write those college application essays.

I want to point out some of the things students applying to colleges should not do or not include in their college application essay:

  • Don't lean too far towards the self-effacing tone in your application essay and don't go too far into bragging territory either. The key in a college application essay is detail your past academic, work and overall life experiences as things you're bringing to the table. These are experiences that shaped the person writing the essay and you don't want to pooh pooh them. Neither do you want to build them up in epic proportion. Every experience you include in your college application essay should be there for a reason. Be sure to write about your experiences and also how they have shaped the person you are now so that the college admissions staff can get the true picture of you as an individual.
  • Don't use humor in your college application essay. Although it might be fun or easier to write using humor, you don't know who is reading your essay. If you make a joke about Australians (for example), how do you know the person reading your essay won't be Australian, or be married to an Australians, or really love Australian movies? You don't. It is safest, therefore, to avoid humor in your college essay as a way to avoid alienating your readers.
  • Don't use passive sentence construction in your college application essay. When you use the passive voice in your writing, you sound static because it sounds like something is being done to someone or something rather than someone doing the something. For example, I can tell you that "passive sentence construction should be avoided" instead of writing "avoid passive sentence construction" but the first example is too wordy and sounds a bit vague without a subject doing something in the phrase. The second example has an implied subject seemingly carrying out an action by avoiding it: "(You) avoid passive sentence construction"; and it says the same thing as the first example with fewer words.
  • Don't make statements without backing them up with a concrete example justifying that statement. You can say something like "King Lear is Shakespeare's best play" but you will need to add more detail to back up your statement and it has to be more than "because it is well-written". On the other hand, you can say something like "King Lear is Shakespeare's best play because both Lear and Gloucester misread their children's lust for power as love for them, suggesting that greed takes root in families and works outward." In a sentence like the previous example, not only will your reader see that you value King Lear the play, but also why you do and how you define its merit. In other words, your reader will see how you think and it doesn't have to be a complicated concrete example since most college application essay writers are coming from high school. It just has to be a reflection of how you think. Don't be afraid to let that come through in your college application essay.

Writing college application essays can be scary. Fortunately there are plenty of free resources online that can offer some tips for how to write them. My "things not to do" list is a good start to get you thinking about what that essay should look like and how it can truly reflect the person applying for college admission.

SparkCollege: The College Search

How to Write a College Essay from 5 of the Best Experts - Parents Countdown to College Coach

The college essay is perhaps the most frustrating part of the college application. Since the essay provides the opportunity for you to give the colleges a “window into your soul” so to speak, the essay is essentially a key component of the application. If you’re struggling with essay or just need some expert advice, where can you go for help?

These five experts provide some of the best essay advice on how to write a college essay. For each, I have focused on a specific topic, but if you want (or need) more specific help, visit their websites. You will be amazed at their willingness to offer their expert advice free of charge. They all, however, offer specialized coaching and you and your student would be wise to take advantage of it if you find their advice helpful.

How do I begin the essay process?

This advice comes from my go-to essay source, The College Essay Guy. According to him, students should prepare before writing the essay. He starts the process by answering these questions:

  1. What should my essay be about?
  2. What are college admissions officers looking for?
  3. How do college admissions officers evaluate my essay?
  4. Which is more important: your story or your writing skill?
  5. When should I start writing my essay?
  6. How do I structure my essay?
  7. How much do essays matter?
  8. If my grades are bad, can I get into Harvard with a great essay?
  9. Can a bad college essay negatively affect my application?
How do you avoid writing an essay that bombs?

This tip is from Essay Hell, a good resource for essay information, along with examples and tips for specific colleges like USC and UT. According to Essay Hell, there are 5 traps you can fall into when writing your college essay:

  1. Your essay is dull.
  2. Your college application isn’t personal.
  3. Your essay is mainly about someone else.
  4. Your essay only repeats everything else in your admissions application.
  5. You come across as not having your act together.
What are possible brainstorming questions?

The Essay Expert, Brenda Bernstein, provides some possible essay brainstorming topics:

  1. What’s my favorite school subject and why?
  2. What’s my favorite extracurricular activity and why?
  3. What character in a book inspires me and why?
  4. What’s a story of how I went from a simplistic understanding of how the world works to a more complex, nuanced understanding?
  5. What’s an object that’s important to me and why?
  6. What’s a place/location that’s important to me and why?
  7. Who are the most important people in my life and what have I learned from them?
Once you have a topic, how do you keep focus and stay on task?

According to the experts at All College Application Essays, “the drafting process is critical and can help make your stories and messages clearer. These essays are hard to write and get better with each new layer. To help, they provide 10 questions to guide you through the process:

  1. Does your essay start with a story that hooks us in from the first paragraph?
  2. If you start in the past, do you get to the present very quickly?
  3. Do you write only in the first person and not spend too much time describing anyone or anything else?
  4. If you are writing about your community or family, do you get to the present and your life and life works quickly?
  5. Do you only tell one story and not try and tell your entire life story?
  6. If you are writing about an obstacle or challenge overcome, do you get to how you have responded and made a difference in the life of your community by the second impactor third paragraph of the essay?
  7. Do you have a metaphor that goes through the entire piece…does this metaphor reveal who you are and what you offer to potential colleges?
  8. Does your story make you sound unique and not like anyone else applying?
  9. Do you tell new stories and qualities in each separate essay your write?
  10. Do you end with a bang?
What do admissions officers look for in an essay?

According to David at EssaysCoach.com, writing a good application essay is hard. Many students write essays that are too cliché or too shallow; others write essays that are impersonal and uninformative; some are even unfortunate enough to write essays that cause their own rejection. Here are five things an admissions officer looks for:

  1. Can the applicant write?
  2. What does the essay say about the applicant?
  3. Are there deep, personal reflections?
  4. What will the applicant bring to the community?
  5. Do the qualities represented in the essay resonate with the rest of the application?

Check out each individual website for more essay tips and for help with the college essay. Always go to the experts!

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5 Writing Tips From Stephen King - Expert Enough

Alex Strike is a young copywriter and blogger of Writing-Help.com. a website of the best writing services that helps students to come up with new creative ideas for essay writing. Alex likes the process of writing itself, and the books of Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. Find him on Google+ .

Alex Strike in Becoming an Expert | December 18, 2013 5 Writing Tips From Stephen King

Whether you are a blogger or a book writer, you want to write interesting and catchy content.

Every author has their own secret of success, their own sources of inspiration, their personal tricks to attract and hold their readers. Even essay writers can share some exclusive tricks with you concerning what a really perfect essay should look like.

It is difficult to give advice, as what may work out for one of us could be completely worthless to another. Anyway, when it comes to such writing gurus as Stephen King, it’s difficult to ignore his advice concerning effective writing, isn’t it?

Stephen King knows the magic of words very well, and he is a very successful writer by all means. Besides his thoughts and episodes from life, Mr. King gives quite clear advice to all newbies of writing.

His autobiography On Writing perfectly describes the sources of his gloomy novels, and reveals the secrets of effective writing that can work for many other niches as well.

We are here to share King’s thoughts with you, but first of all, let’s learn and remember five main rules for every writer to follow:

  1. Write your first draft as soon as possible.
  2. Always look for new ideas.
  3. Be consistent, and write every day.
  4. Always research the work of other writers.
  5. Get rid of unnecessary details.

As you can see, there is nothing difficult here. But practice is the best master, and it seems the key to success. So, be original, hard-working, and cut all excesses off.

Here are five more secrets of Stephen King to help you write better.

1. Do not waste your time on nonsense

Many people fill their time with empty deeds, that do not lead to anything useful. Before there was watching TV there will still a lot of distractions. And now more and more technology makes it easier to be distracted than to work.

“If you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far. Just an idea.” – Stephen King

2. Be persistent

Having failed, do not stop trying. Stephen King put all rejection letters from publishers on a nail on a wall.

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” – Stephen King

After years of work, refusals became softer. Some publishers started to send some tips on texts improvements, and began to publish his works finally. And when Stephen King became famous, he could send his previously rejected works to publishers again, and no one rejected him this time.

3. Do not take the critics too seriously

There will always be people ready and willing to criticize you. So, do what you think is right, and do not play attention to any spiteful critics.

“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.” – Stephen King

4. Maintain and develop your form

King also talks about making all necessary tools perfect.

“It’s best to have your tools with you. If you don’t, you’re apt to find something you didn’t expect and get discouraged.” – Stephen King

As a writer, King speaks of vocabulary and grammar here. Everyone can identify what tools are needed for his work. Whether that be writing or some other form of art.

5. Think of who you write for

Try to imagine what the reaction of your customers will be. Will they like what you do or do you need to change anything in order to improve your work? The trick is to imagine your Ideal Reader, the one person you write to. For Stephen King, his Ideal Reader was always his wife Tabitha.

“If you know the tastes of your Ideal reader at least half as much as I know the tastes of mine, it will be not difficult for you to imagine what he will like, and what – not.” – Stephen King

Good luck with your writing, and let the force of Great Masters of words be with you!

A weekly curated email of useful links for people interested in lifestyle businesses and independent entrepreneurship. Alex Strike is a young copywriter and blogger of Writing-Help.com. a website of the best writing services that helps students to come up with new creative ideas for essay writing. Alex likes the process of writing itself, and the books of Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. Find him on Google+ .

Paul Hensel s Writing Tips

Paul Hensel's Writing Tips Related Pages Introduction

The primary purpose of this web page is to give students easy access to tools that might help their writing. Poor grammar or a dysfunctional writing style will create obstacles throughout your life, ranging from poor grades in college to ineffective essays on law school or grad school applications and unflattering job evaluations from employers or supervisors. I can not guarantee that this page will magically improve your grades, get you into Harvard Law School, or get you a raise and a promotion -- but I do hope that you find it useful.

Advice on College-Level Research and Writing

My upper-division undergraduate courses typically require at least one research paper and several essay exams, and many high schools and introductory undergraduate courses do not give students the preparation they need to succeed in classes like this. The following resources are meant to help students cope with such assignments, regardless of their previous experience.

General Style and Grammar Links

The following resources offer more general help with style and grammar.

A Little Humor
  • Grammar Rules (grammatical mistakes to avoid)
  • Spellchecker Poem (modern technology makes it easy to run papers through a spellchecker to catch some obvious typos and other problems -- although it's still shocking how few students take advantage of this -- but even spellcheckers aren't perfect; here is a poem that made it through my word processor's spellchecker intact)

Last updated: 6 July 2008
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