“Telling Your Story: Ten Tips For
Writing Powerful College Essays

Rebecca Joseph, PhD
rjoseph@calstatela.edu
facebook: ge...
How important are application essays?
1. 1st
2. 2nd
3. 3rd
4. 4th
5. 5th
How Important Are Essays?
What do American colleges look for?
1. Grades
2. Rigor of Coursework, School
3. Test Scores
4. E...
So….Tip 1
Tip 1. College essays are fourth in importance

behind grades, test scores, and the rigor of
completed coursewo...
A New Paradigm
Tip 2. Develop an overall strategic essay writing
plan. College essays should work together to help
you com...
Four Major Application Types:
1. The Common Application





Many private and some public American use the
centralized ...
1. Common Application Essays
One Long
1)
The Common Application: New Prompts! 250-650 words. Paste in.

One Long:

Some ...
Four Major Application Types:
2. Large Public Universities
Many large and most prominent public universities

have their ...
UC California
 Two essays
 Respond to both prompts, using a maximum of 1,000 words total.
 You may allocate the word co...
Four Major Application Types:
3. Private college specific applications
 Fewer and fewer major private universities are no...
Four Major Application Types:
4. Other systems
Some large public systems have their own

applications which do not requir...
Develop A Master Chart
Tip 3. Keep a chart of all essays required by each

college, including short responses and optiona...
Write the Fewest Yet Most Effective Essays…
Tip 4. Look for patterns between colleges essay
requirements so that you can f...
Where to Begin: Core Qualities
Tip 5. Plan to share positive messages and powerful outcomes. You can start with life or fa...
Model Essays
Great link: Essays that Worked: Connecticut

College
http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/essays-thatworked.htm...
Which essays topic sound interesting?
 1. Riding the bus to work.
 2. Overcoming a bad sophomore year.
 3. Balancing ac...
FW #2: Think of a story…
Describe a story related to one of your activities or

passions or family features or your perso...
1st person only.
Tip 6. Always write in the first person. Remember,

these are autobiographical essays, even when you
tal...
Into, Through, and Beyond Essay Approach
Tip 7. Follow Dr. Joseph’s Into, Through, and Beyond approach.
Lead the reader IN...
Take the Time With These Essays
Tip 8. Use active writing: avoid passive sentences and
incorporate power verbs. Show when ...
Brainstorming Strategies
So here are some creative ways to help high school seniors get started with writing active, enga...
 Read George Lyon’s “Where I’m From” Poem. http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html.











Think of where you a...
Final Thoughts
Tip 10. Most importantly, make yourself come alive
throughout this process. Write about yourself as
passion...
You Can Make Your College Dreams Come True
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“Telling Your Story: Ten Tips For Writing Powerful College Essays

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This is my powerpoint from my College Greenlight presentation about college application essays. It's short and sweet. You need to tell stories that show your leadership and initiative. Jump off the page.

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“Telling Your Story: Ten Tips For Writing Powerful College Essays

  1. 1. “Telling Your Story: Ten Tips For Writing Powerful College Essays Rebecca Joseph, PhD rjoseph@calstatela.edu facebook: getmetocollege freeadvice Unique app: All College Application Essays
  2. 2. How important are application essays? 1. 1st 2. 2nd 3. 3rd 4. 4th 5. 5th
  3. 3. How Important Are Essays? What do American colleges look for? 1. Grades 2. Rigor of Coursework, School 3. Test Scores 4. Essays* 5. Recommendations-Teacher and/or Counselor 6. Activities-Consistency, development, leadership, and initiative 7. Special skills, talents, and passions
  4. 4. So….Tip 1 Tip 1. College essays are fourth in importance behind grades, test scores, and the rigor of completed coursework in many admissions office decisions. Don’t waste this powerful opportunity to share your voice and express who you really are to colleges. Great life stories make you jump off the page and into your match colleges.
  5. 5. A New Paradigm Tip 2. Develop an overall strategic essay writing plan. College essays should work together to help you communicate key qualities and stories not available anywhere else in your application. Remember: The package of essays counts…not just one. It’s the message that you communicate along with the power of your stories and your writing It’s your ability to take the reader into, through, and beyond your stories quickly and memorably Tell stories that belong just to you. That’s why a narrow and powerfully, personal focus is key.
  6. 6. Four Major Application Types: 1. The Common Application    Many private and some public American use the centralized Common Application with their own supplements www.commonapp.org Most top colleges have supplements with additional essay requirements. Don’t start writing any essays until you see all the essays required for your top schools.
  7. 7. 1. Common Application Essays One Long 1) The Common Application: New Prompts! 250-650 words. Paste in.  One Long:  Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.  Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?  Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.. One Short If Colleges Select it. 150 words-1000 character maximum. Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below or on an attached sheet (150 words or fewer). 1000 character max. Activities The Common Application leaves room for 10 activities with limited spaced for descriptions. Additional Information The Common Application allows you to add additional information. Only use this for truly exceptional needs to share more information. Writing Supplement They range from one line to 500 words. Some schools have one, while other have three. They can overlap. If it says optional, view it as mandatory.
  8. 8. Four Major Application Types: 2. Large Public Universities Many large and most prominent public universities have their own applications.      Universities of Arizona, California, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin—to name just some They each have different essay requirements. They each have your report activities in a different way. But there are ways to use your other essays here as well. They have their own essays. You should gather their topics and look for ways to use your common application essay as one of your essays for the public colleges, and visa-versa.
  9. 9. UC California  Two essays  Respond to both prompts, using a maximum of 1,000 words total.  You may allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one prompt at greater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250 words.  You must stay within the 1,000 word count.  Prompt #1 (freshman applicants)-[Outside-In] Describe the world you come from – for example, your family, community or school – and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.  Prompt #2 (all applicants) [Inside-Out] Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are
  10. 10. Four Major Application Types: 3. Private college specific applications  Fewer and fewer major private universities are not on the common application  But there are still holdouts.  Georgetown, Tulane, and MIT to name a few  Georgetown and Tulane have a long essay and one short. Use your common application essays. Georgetown has a why Georgetown essay also. Tulane’s Why Tulane is optional (But nothing is optional).  MIT has several 300 word essays.
  11. 11. Four Major Application Types: 4. Other systems Some large public systems have their own applications which do not require long, if any essays. Yet their applications for financial aid or academic support programs add in those requirements. Washington State, for example, several short essays which they share with other state systems. The Universal Application is another system. It has fewer colleges on it than The Common Application so only use it if two or more of your colleges use it.
  12. 12. Develop A Master Chart Tip 3. Keep a chart of all essays required by each college, including short responses and optional essays. Never start an application for a college without knowing all the essays you must write. View each essay or short response as a chance to tell a new story and to share your core qualities.  I recommend three sheets.    1. Major deadlines and needs. Break it down by the four application types 2. Core essays-Color code all the similar or overlapping essays. 3. Supplemental essays. Each college has extra requirements on the common application. Again color code similar types: Why are you a good match for us? How will you add to the diversity of our campus?
  13. 13. Write the Fewest Yet Most Effective Essays… Tip 4. Look for patterns between colleges essay requirements so that you can find ways to use essays more than once. This holds true for scholarship essays. Examples:  UC 1 or 2=Common Long with Short 1  Then for example, you could use the other long for U Texas or Yale’s supplement. Then Use Short 2  We can have different versions of the Common Application.  So we will need two to three shorts.
  14. 14. Where to Begin: Core Qualities Tip 5. Plan to share positive messages and powerful outcomes. You can start with life or family challenges. You can describe obstacles you have overcome. You can reflect on your growth and development, including accomplishments and service. College admissions officers do not read minds, so tell them your powerful life stories. Some states can use only socio-economic status, but not race, in admissions, but in your essays, your voice and background can emerge. On the back of your student sheet, think of three to five of your activities that truly stand out.    Brainstorming. Think of your resume. Think of your FW #1 Write down five of your during school year and summer activities. You can also include unique family features or your hobbies or unusual features. 1 2 3 4 5 Write down the traits you believe you show explicitly or implicitly to a college Examples…empathetic, resilient, determined, collaborative, creative, insightful, analytic, etc. 1 2 3 4 5 Thinking of these two lists, what possible essay topics might you like to write? The more out of the box the better. 1 2 3 4 5
  15. 15. Model Essays Great link: Essays that Worked: Connecticut College http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/essays-thatworked.htm As we read the following sets of essays, I want you see how the pieces complement each other. I want you to identify the core qualities each student offers a college
  16. 16. Which essays topic sound interesting?  1. Riding the bus to work.  2. Overcoming a bad sophomore year.  3. Balancing acting and costume design while on skates  4. Going between a tradition (sexist) Chinese father and liberal (feminist) Chinese mother  5. Losing a girlfriend or boyfriend.  6. Playing the cello in the band.  7. Swimming with sharks.  8. Doing play by play for a radio station that no one can hear. 9. Visiting an old age home.
  17. 17. FW #2: Think of a story… Describe a story related to one of your activities or passions or family features or your personality. Be as descriptive with images and active language as possible.
  18. 18. 1st person only. Tip 6. Always write in the first person. Remember, these are autobiographical essays, even when you talk about other people. Remember the colleges are looking to accept you, not your relatives. So use the one third and two thirds rule. If you choose to write about someone or something else, you must show how it affected you for the majority of the essay. Your essays show colleges why you belong on college campuses and share how you will enrich diverse communities.
  19. 19. Into, Through, and Beyond Essay Approach Tip 7. Follow Dr. Joseph’s Into, Through, and Beyond approach. Lead the reader INTO your story with a powerful beginning—a story, an experience. Take them THROUGH your story with the context and keys parts of your story. Make sure the reader understands your initiative, leadership, development, and continuity. End with the BEYOND message about how this story has affected who you are now and who you want to be in college and potentially after college. The beyond can be implied in many pieces that are so strong that moralizing at the end if not necessary.  It is not just the story that counts.  It’s the choice of qualities a student wants the college to know about herself
  20. 20. Take the Time With These Essays Tip 8. Use active writing: avoid passive sentences and incorporate power verbs. Show when possible; tell when summarizing. Tip 9. Have trusted inside and impartial outside readers read your essays. Make sure you have no spelling or grammatical errors.
  21. 21. Brainstorming Strategies So here are some creative ways to help high school seniors get started with writing active, engaging essays that truly communicate their stories to admissions officers. Write your resume. Include everything you can from high school. Categorize your activities, community service, work, internships, athletics, arts, and more. Include descriptions of your leadership and initiative. Maybe in writing the resume you will remember some key event or story that will turn into a great application essay. Start first with three short activity paragraphs. In writing them, make them as interesting and exciting as possible. Start with a story. Keep them to 1000 characters. Maybe one of these can turn into a long. Shorts are easier to throw away than longs and very useful for the Common Application and supplemental essays. None will ever go to waste. Write a list of your most quirky features. I love Stanford and BU’s supplemental Letter to Your Future Roommate. These letters are often so much more interesting than the other essays. Makshya wrote about her fetish for making lists and provided her list. Every item from her list could turn into a great essay starter. Samples from her list include: “I have the ability to create and develop different fonts in my handwriting” and “One of my favorite words is “ubuntu,” which means humanity in Xhosa.” Start with a list of what makes you, you. Make that will spark an essay topic. Look at sample essays posted on actual college websites. Connecticut College (www.conncoll.edu/admission/essays-that-worked.htm) offers great samples. Johns Hopkins (http://apply.jhu.edu/apply/essays.html) even provides admissions officers’ feedback after each sample essay. Reading these, you can see the huge range of topics. At least, you can see how they all begin with an amazing in the moment first paragraph. You can do the same.
  22. 22.  Read George Lyon’s “Where I’m From” Poem. http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html.      Think of where you are from. Read the poem to get ideas to write your own and start an amazing essay. Read past and present supplemental essay topics from other colleges. The University of Chicago has great supplementary essay topics every year. A couple of years ago, one topic was: “It Isn’t Easy Being Green” by Kermit the Frog. That turned into a great long essay for several kids I know who never applied to U Chicago. This year’s topics are great as well. Go to https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/apply/essays/ and read the topics. Tufts also has great prompts athttp://admissions.tufts.edu/apply/essay-questions/. Perhaps one of these topics will spark an idea. Read sample essays from older kids at your school. But don’t copy. Just get ideas. You need to truly match your writing and style to the level of school. Admissions officers are begging for gripping, non-general stories. Give them a gift. Follow Dr. Joseph’s Into, Through, and Beyond Approach. With your INTO, grab us into the story with a moment in time. That moment must reveal a core qualify. Then go into two levels of THROUGH. THROUGH 1 provides the immediate context of the INTO. THROUGH 2 provides the overall context. End with a BEYOND that is not sappy but powerful. Think of a metaphor that guides you and weave through your story and into your ending. Great, great essays can take us through an event and weave in core features. Do not feel confined by any rules other than to engage and stimulate the admissions officers to see you come to life before them. And yes, you must grammar edit your essays. Don’t be bound by five paragraph essays. Your story will guide the form of the essay. You can use dialogue, quotes, song lyrics, poetry. Let your story and message guide you.
  23. 23. Final Thoughts Tip 10. Most importantly, make yourself come alive throughout this process. Write about yourself as passionately and powerfully as possible. Be proud of your life and accomplishments. Sell yourself!!!  Students often need weeks not days to write effective essays. You need to push        beyond stereotypes. You must ultimately submit what pleases you. Essays cannot be manufactured. They convey truth, unique stories, and writing skills. Admissions officers can smell “enhanced” essays. Students have two to five minutes to grab the attention of a essay reader. You can find many great websites and examples but each student is different. Admissions officers often say essays make or break an ultimate decision for students applying to “match colleges.” Facebook friend me: getmetocollege freeadvice
  24. 24. You Can Make Your College Dreams Come True
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