Category Archives: College Essays

College Essay Rules

green-chameleon-21532-unsplash-homeworkAugust 1st is a big date for rising seniors. It is the date a majority of college applications open, and it is also the date when both students (and their parents) realize they need to get serious about college application work, especially if the goal is to complete as much as possible before school starts.

As time passes, stress levels tend to rise, but stress (and procrastination) are detrimental to the self-reflection and vulnerability required in the college essay writing process. To keep the peace in your house and help students craft their best essays, here are my Rules for Students, Parents, and English Class Essay Work.


Be patient: Give your student time to work their essay before asking to see a draft. Wait until they are ready to share it.

Be sensitive: This process asks students to be vulnerable and to try to show who they think they are to strangers. Give them space and time to find both their story and their voice.

Be mindful: Maybe the topic is not the one you think they should be writing about but ask yourself if it highlights something unique and wonderful about them. Here is a great article explaining why sometimes the best college essays are often about topics parents do not like.

Things to do to support your student:

  • Ask them what they want colleges to know about them. See if you find examples of these qualities in the essay.
  • Find grammatical errors
  • Encourage them to self-reflect on what they care about in the world, who they inspire to be, and what makes them who they are.
  • Praise your student for being brave, creative, funny, or insightful enough to tell their story.
  • If you really need something (college-related) to do, search for private scholarships for your student!


  • Be mindful: You do not have to share your essay with anyone you do not want to, and in fact, sharing your essay with too many people can lead to an essay being over-edited, stripping the essay of your voice.
  • Be patient: This is a long process, and you won’t get it right the 1st (or 2nd or 3rd) time. Learning how to write (and rewrite) college essays takes time.
  • Carve out time: You will need to write even when you don’t feel like it, but once you complete your first essay, the rest will come easier.
  • Read for inspiration: Read books from your favorite author to learn how to write descriptively and hook a reader. If you read other college essays, do so only for ideas of how different and creative they can be, not to copy them or get distracted by a cute or creative topic.
  • Ask questions: What do colleges already know about you from your activities, your transcript, and will likely hear from your letters of recommendation? What else should they know about who you are, how you think, how you challenge yourself, what you have overcome, what you do when no one is watching, and what is important to you? That is the whole purpose of the college essay!

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College Factors: What to Let Go and What to Embrace

round silver colored wall clock




It is that time of year when seniors feel that the college process is getting real!

In just two short months, the early application deadline of November 1st will be here, so now is the time to focus on what you have control over and to let go of what you do not.



Factors outside of your control (recognize these, but then let them go):

-competitiveness of the applicant pool

-a college’s preference for in-state vs. out-of-state applicants

-# and competitiveness of students applying to your major

-needs of the university

-how admissions staff measure the desirability of applicants

-the essay questions you are asked to answer

-competitiveness of your high school

-biological and background factors (race, income, etc.)

-the mood and perspective of your reviewer

Factors within your control (prioritize these, and give them your best effort):

-your course selection

-the quality of your essays and application

-what is on your resume (how you’ve chosen to spend your free time)

-who writes your recommendation letters

-your desired major

-where you apply

-how you engage with colleges

-seeking out resources in your school and community

I could write about all of these in-depth, but today I will focus on quick tips for the things you do have control over. Continue reading

Top 10 College Essay Tips


  1. The college essay is not an English paper assignment. There are no requirements for a thesis statement with three supporting paragraphs and a nice, neat conclusion. The best essays often start in the middle of the story, grabbing the readers attention and focus on bringing your personality to life.
  2. Write well. Even though it is not an English paper, colleges want to know that you can write well. In college, you will be expected to write. A lot. Make sure your essay is organized and coherent, as well as engaging and expressive. Check and re-check for grammar and spelling errors.
  3. Be prepared to write many drafts. Great essays take many drafts. Don’t get too invested in your first draft. Every word should be important and add something to your story.
  4. Write like you are a teenager. Do not let whoever edits your paper rewrite it so much that your personality is lost. It should be your voice coming through the pages. Use words that you would normally use but beware of slang. Have a trusted friend read it. Does it sound like you?
  5. Write about you, not someone else. Your grandfather might have an amazing story of hardship and hard-earned success, but colleges want to know your story. Let the reader know how you think, how you talk, how the situation or relationship you share changed something about you.
  6. Answer the question. This point may seem obvious, but many applicants end up writing essays that do not answer the essay prompt. Colleges ask specific questions for a reason and will be frustrated if you squeeze in a story that does not address their questions.
  7. Share deep, personal reflections and insights into who you are and why. To help colleges get to know you, you need to include personal reflections in your essays. Otherwise, the essay may sound trite and generic. The most important thing to share is “why” you are sharing the story, not necessarily what topic you choose.

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