Guidance and Support for the College Application Essay

For Students

Writing is rewriting. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase many times, maybe TOO many times. But that’s because it’s true, or as Dorothy Parker put it, “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” She meant good writing takes time. This is an important principle to remember as you begin to think about your college application essay.

It is essential that you give yourself plenty of time to think about what you want to say, and even more time to put those ideas down on paper. Barbara Kingsolver advises: “Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say.” Because what you have to say is exactly what college admissions officers want to learn about you. 

Your application can only reveal so much.

It is the essay that provides you with an opportunity to show them what you, and you alone, can contribute to the Class of 20__.

Look, I know you’re busy. And I also know how much pressure you feel to make your essay “perfect.” I can help you produce an essay you’re proud to submit, one with a unique voice, vivid anecdotes, and proper punctuation. But I can’t manage your time. There is no doubt that this process will require a commitment of time. There will be pre-writing exercises before you begin, and then several re-writes after the first draft is composed.

For planning purposes, you should assume that each in-person session will last one hour, and budget for one or two more hours of thinking and writing in between sessions.

We’ll use the “so what?” principle.

One technique that we will make use of during the writing and editing process is what I call the “so what?” principle. It will help you interrogate your thinking, by having you answer the question “so why is this important?” It is also a useful way to link paragraphs together, and build an essay. As Gerald Graff observes in They Say, I Say, “the best compositions establish a sense of momentum and direction by making explicit connections…so that what is said in one sentence (or paragraph) both sets up what is to come and is clearly informed by what has already been said.”

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