7 Last-Minute College Essay Tips

on December 15, 2016

Time is running out to write your college essay.


If you haven’t tackled this dreaded writing assignment yet, no worries!


Right here you’ll find several ridiculously easy-to-follow tips to write a stress-free essay so you can get on with your life.


Tip No 1: Include a problem in your essay.


Need a great essay topic? An excellent way to find one is to focus on a problem.


”Problems are an essay's best friend!” observes Janine Robinson, the creator of the popular website, Essay Hell, which includes loads of free college essay advice.


Problems don't have to be catastrophes or tragedies (even though those can work, too). They come in all shapes and sizes and include:


  • Challenges
  • Obstacles
  • Flaws
  • Mistakes
  • Set backs
  • Changes
  • Conflicts
  • Obsessions


Not only will a problem help engage your reader, but it allows you to share how you handled it and what you learned.


A Look at Two Essay Problems


Here are two examples of problems that teenagers I know used in their essays:


Example No. 1:


Eating a brain taco.


James began his essay by describing how difficult it was to choke down a brain taco during a road trip with his dad. The taco’s texture was rubbery and James wanted to gag, but he also realized that this was a bonding opportunity with his dad, who grew up eating authentic Mexican food.


In his essay, James wrote about how he appreciated his dad’s heritage and eating meals like this was a way to connect with him.


 Example No. 2:


A high school didn’t offer a boys’ gymnastics team.


Jack had been competing in gymnastics for years, but all the high schools in his city had discontinued the boys’ teams.

After great persistence, Jack got permission to start competing on the girls’ team after learning their events. The attention that he drew to his quest attracted other boys to compete and that revived the boys’ gymnastic teams at some of the city’s high schools.


Tip No. 2:  Start with a splash.


During admission season, college application readers may plow through dozens of essays a day. It can be a mind-numbing process.


Consequently, you should start your essay with a hook that grabs the reader’s attention. Years ago, Stanford Magazine published an article that included provocative opening lines from successful applicants.


I’m sharing some here so you see what winning opening lines look like:


  • I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
  • When I was in eighth grade I couldn’t read.
  • I have old hands.
  • The spaghetti burbled and sloshed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.
  • I’ve been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.
  • As an Indian-American, I am forever bound to the hyphen.
  • Unlike many mathematicians, I live in an irrational world; I feel that my life is defined by a certain amount of irrationalities that bloom too frequently, such as my brief foray in front of 400 people without my pants.
  • On a hot Hollywood evening, I sat on a bike, sweltering in a winter coat and furry boots.
  • Some fathers might disapprove of their children handling noxious chemicals in the garage.


Tip No. 3:  Don’t share too much!


You are not writing a mini autobiography.  Many essays go wrong when students try to cram too much about themselves into the word count. Stick with a sharp focus!


Writing about something in your life that lasted just minutes or a day will work infinitely better than trying to jam too much of your life into the essay!


Try to pick one defining quality about yourself to showcase in your story. Here are some ideas:


  • Creative
  • Problem solver
  • Innovative
  • Enterprising
  • Loyal
  • Non-judgmental
  • Straight forward
  • Optimistic
  • Passionate


If you stick with highlighting one of your key characteristics, your essay won't end up too general and dull.


Sure, it can be hard to pick just one quality or characteristic to write about. Robinson, however, says to do it anyway since you will discover that you have plenty to say about it and your essay will be more effective and meaningful.


Tip No 4:  Remember this isn’t a high school assignment!


The college essay isn’t an English paper, emphasizes Kim Lifton, the co-founder of WOW Writing Workshop, which helps teenagers craft their college essays. The admission essay should not be written like an expository essay with the classic introductory thesis, supporting paragraphs and conclusion.


College admission officers do not read essays like English teachers. There is no rubric to follow. Admission officers are often not as critical as parents, college consultants and high school counselors when reading the essays. What they really want is to hear your voice come through.


Tip No.  5: Pick the easiest topic


Don’t make the essay harder than it has to be. If you can’t decide among a lot of potential topics, pick the one that you can write about most easily.


Tip No. 6:  Share your feelings.


Open up about your feelings and share your ideas, thoughts and opinions in a familiar, candid way.


If you write about something that happened to you or something you did, make sure you also share how you felt at the time and what went through your head.


Use simple language, such as:


  • "It made me feel ..."
  • "I felt like ..."


By getting personal and showing some emotion in your essay, the reader gets a sense of your character as well as your personality.


Tip No. 7:  Remember these writing rules.


Here are some final thoughts on making your essay sparkle:


  • Don’t use clichés.
  • Remember that short sentences are better than long ones.
  • Avoid words that you’d only find in a thesaurus.
  • Be genuine.
  • Don’t write in generalities.
  • Absolutely embrace details!


And keep in mind what the famous writer Kurt Vonnegut once advised:


Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.


Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a best-selling author, speaker and journalist. Her book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, is available on Amazon.com.

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