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Writing the college essay may strike fear in the hearts of many, but a good essay can take an application from solid to outstanding.  Make the process less stressful, and maybe even fun, by employing these tips:

1.  Start Early
Rising seniors, start your essay over the summer.  Once senior year begins you will be juggling course work, standardized testing and filling out applications.  Having the essay piece under control will make handling the rest a lot easier.


2.  Mine Your Values

At its core, a good college app essay will reveal something important about your character to college admissions officers.  Help clarify your values by doing this exercise.

3.  Take a Life Inventory
Many students think that, unless they experienced a great tragedy or a major triumph, they have nothing to write about.  Not true.  Make a timeline of your life and fill it in with memories big and small.  Try to zero in on ones that helped you change your way of thinking or develop a specific value. 

4.  Tell a Story
Once you’ve settled on a memory, try putting it on paper as though you are telling a story.  As that story unfolds, the reader will begin to see a side of you that could not be expressed on a resume or an application. 

5. Be Specific
Use concrete, evocative words that show us a picture rather than simply telling us what happened.  “The first thing you notice about my grandmother are her gnarled hands” is better than “My grandmother has lived a long time.” 

6.  Get In Late
Start your essay in the midst of an event rather than using your precious word-count to explain why you happened to be in this particular place at this particular time.   Starting with, “My bunk-mate snored” is better than explaining about how you went to sleep-away camp every summer.

7. Grab 'Em
Your first sentence needs to draw the audience in.   One of our clients originally started his essay by saying:  “I have volunteered in the ICU for four years,” but later changed it to “Blood is fun.”  Who could stop reading after that?
8.  Use Your Own Conversational Voice

Write naturally and simply.  Overwriting rarely comes off as genuine.  Read your work aloud.  If you’re getting tripped up on big words and complicated sentence structure, pare it down.

9.  Answer the Prompt
Be sure your essay addresses the question posed on the application.

10.  Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite
Plan on doing a number of drafts. It’s very important not to fall too deeply in love with what you’ve already written.  Chances are, you’ll have to cut some of it.

11.  Spell Check
Every time you do a new draft, spell check.   Nothing says “I don't care” like an essay with spelling and grammar errors.

Writing your college essay is one of those rare times when being exactly who you are, is exactly what’s called for.  If you write from your heart and tell your own personal truth, you can’t go wrong.

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