College Application Essay 101

  • How can I write about my strengths when I’m not sure what they are?
  • How can I know what colleges are looking for?
  • What if I don’t like writing – especially about myself?
  • How do I make sure I don’t say the wrong thing?

Faced with writing a college application essay, high school students often feel paralyzed by questions like these. As a writing coach who has worked with a range of college applicants from college prep to Honors to AP, I can help you build confidence by identifying your strengths — especially the ones you didn’t know you had. Together we will break the writing task into doable steps. As you complete each step, I’ll support you and let you know what you have to do next to construct a winning essay. Read my college application essay tips and consider the FinishLine Tutoring package deal covering all the sessions you need. Call 203-644-0279 for details.

Consider using the following guidelines, either by yourself or with a writing coach:

Research

  1. Identify the timeframe. What are your target colleges’ application deadlines?
  2. Do any of the colleges require a separate essay for entrance to a specific program?
  3. Learn from each target college’s website whether it has its own prompt or whether applicants may choose from the many prompts provided by The Common Application, an organization used by many colleges.

Planning

  1. Set a series of deadlines for yourself. For instance, how much time do you have to gather ideas before you write? When should the first draft be done? The final draft?
  1. When and if you select the prompt, choose one that allows you to best show yourself as a learner (curious, given to exploration) rather than just a student (know how to get good grades), something your transcript will make entirely clear.

Brainstorming

  1. Before you write, prepare to write by asking teachers, coaches, friends and family members to help you identify your strengths and interests, rather than just asking “what should I say in my college application essay?”
  2. Before you write anything, toss ideas around in conversation, draw a diagram connecting key words and concepts, or using freewriting (writing fast and freely about what you really think, without bothering with grammar, punctuation, or what others would say).

Writing

  1. Write a first draft about experiences you have had that truly moved you, inspired you, or mattered to you, either in or outside of school. The experience does not have to be important in the eyes of the world — only to you.
  2. Write further about why these experiences were important.
  3. Go even further by writing about what these experiences have inspired you to learn or to explore in college.

Revising

  1. Read your essay aloud to yourself. You will hear what needs to change. Then revise.
  2. Go back and make sure that your essay truly responds to the prompt. (You may decide to change prompts!)
  3. Now read your essay out loud to a trusted audience. You’ll be surprised at what you learn!
  4. Based on what you learn, revise again, clarifying points and smoothing out the prose.
  5. Proofread. Read aloud again to find the little errors that love to hide and correct them.

Send It In!

  1. Send your essay in by the deadline. Send it earlier if you can.

Have questions about college application essays? Give me a call. I am happy to answer your questions without charge. And, if you choose, we can set up our first session. Most students finish their essays in three to six sessions. Finish Line Tutoring offers package deals that can save your family money as you complete this vital task.

Jason V. Howard is a Connecticut Certified Teacher with over 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to teaching English and Theater courses, he has tutored scores of students individually in a range of subjects at the middle and high school levels – overachievers, underachievers and lots of students in the middle. A resident of Redding, Mr. Howard is also a long-distance runner and running coach. He is the founder of Finish Line Tutoring.

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