One of the scariest parts of the entire college admission process is writing the dreaded college essay. High school seniors, who must tackle this assignment, face the very real danger of psyching themselves out before they ever write their first sentence.
Here are 10 tips to help high school seniors fight their demons and get something down on paper.
Tip No. 1: Write a compelling mini story
Pick a story that's linked to a problem you've encountered that could include a challenge, an accident, a phobia, a personal flaw, a major change. Whatever you pick, end the essay on a positive note.
Tip No. 2: Head to Essay Hell
If you want to learn how to write an impressive college essay spend time on EssayHell.com, which is brimming with advice for teenagers intimidated by this once-in-a-lifetime writing assignment.
Tip No. 3: Stay away from the pack
Here are essay topics to avoid: Your pet, your vacation, your athletic prowess and any trips to help disadvantaged people. In Southern California, an overused favorite is writing about helping to build houses for the poor in Mexico.
Tip No. 4: Don't try to be funny
When a student aims to write a funny essay, it usually backfires.
Tip No. 5: Write vividly
Many students write generic essays -- typically five paragraphs -- that are technically correct, but they are stuffed with generalizations and are in bad need of details. The fatal flaw of these essays is that they're b-o-r-i-n-g!
Tip No. 6: Write a grabber opening line
Admission staffers must often plow through dozens of essays a day. Wake them up with an unexpected opening. Here's the opener for one winning Stanford essay: "I have old hands." Google "Stanford" and "college essays" to see more opening lines.
Tip No. 7: Cut when necessary
Unless you're a brilliant writer, and most teenagers aren't, keep your college essay to no more than 500 words. Shorter essays are almost always stronger.
Tip No. 8: Don't count on your high school English teacher
English teachers are trained to teach literature, they aren't trained as writers. Listen to your English teacher and you could end up writing a stiff, formal college essay.
Tip No. 9: Add a Title
A title is optional for a college essay, but it's worth including if it's short and witty.
Tip No. 10: Don't psych yourself out
Stop thinking that you're incapable of writing a model college essay. You can do it. And the sooner you start, the better.