College-Bound Kids Should Learn These Five Lessons in the Next 15 Days That Will Guarantee Them a College Acceptance Letter (#5)

Polish The Essay To (Near) Perfection!

In the last post, I advocated for college-bound kids to work on their introduction last. (Shocker!), and I likened the introduction paragraph to a “tasty appetizer that makes readers eager for the main course.”

To continue the metaphor, have you ever seen a video of a chef emerging from a kitchen to a round of applause from his satisfied patrons? Well, this is the reaction you want from college admissions and scholarship committee readers. Editing and proofreading are the final steps to making your essay so engaging that readers want to meet the writer. And that’s what college-bound writers want!

So, here are some key strategies college bound writers can use once a great draft is written:

 

Read Your Essay Backwards

This tricks your brain into seeing errors you wouldn't normally have seen.
Of course, I don't mean to literally sound like a piece of audio run backwards. What I mean is read the last word first, then the next to the last word second, and so on, and so on. I don't know about you, but there are times when I read back my writing and I realize I've left out articles like "a," and "and," and "the." This technique catches those kinds of omissions.

 

Improve Your Attention Grabber

Here is a key area where college-bound kids can really create an opening that builds and emotional bond with the reader. In a previous post I talked about using a quote to open your essay. Here I will show you how to use a metaphor. Below is a screenshot of the beginning of an essay that won its writer a large scholarship:

The writer is comparing himself to steel. We know steel is created from forging metals together in extreme heat. He is also hinting at the adversity he’s overcome and how, though it was “ the hottest hell life had to give,” like steel, he came out as something new and stronger.

This is such an effective technique and such a gripping opening. You could imitate this strategy except with a different metaphor. Here is an example:

“My dad always called me his princess. I was his delicate daughter he wanted to protect from the world, and when the time came, hand me over to another man he deemed worthy to take over his job of being my protector and champion. I guess one could say that this is the story of a girl who became her own hero, and in the process, shook up her family’s notions of gender, and became the queen of her own destiny.”

There so many other metaphors that could be used. Try this technique and see if it works for you.

 

Improve The Wording of Your Claim

The claim is a sentence or group of sentences that tell the reader what the essay will be about. The claim should use the language that is in the prompt. This may seem simplistic, but much the same way that your resume should use the language of the job posting, this is one area of the writing process where you shouldn't get overly creative. Here are a couple of examples of claims college-bound kids could create from the 2016-17 common application writing prompts:

Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Claim: Although I have participated in several extracurriculars that would look great on my application, no introduction of myself would be complete without mentioning the role Muslim school has in my life. 

 

Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later sixes. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Claim: Making a terrible mistake that could’ve cost me everything I’d prepared for taught me that by asking for help, and working together you can overcome almost anything.

 

Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Claim: When I was able to convince the other debutantes to walk out with me, we started a movement and eliminated the cotillion’s sexist policy that disqualified teen moms, but ignored teen fathers. 

 

Make Sure the Words You’ve Chosen Mean What You Think They Mean

In some of my videos located on my Get The Acceptance Letter YouTube Channel, I've talked about overuse of the thesaurus because college-bound kids are worried that they are using language that is too simplistic. This can go very badly. You can wind up using words that are obviously inserted and don't fit the real sense of the meaning you're trying to make. For example, here is a sentence that might be in a college entrance essay:

My heart dropped when I heard the spelling bee judge say that I had spelled the word incorrectly.

Here's an example of an “overuse of the thesaurus” error:

My heart plummeted when I perceived the spelling bee judge say that I had made a fatal error. 

“Plummeted” feels over done. “Perceived” and “heard” have different connotations and aren't perfect substitutes for one another. “Fatal error” might work without the other choices, but the combination sounds like a person who does not have a sensitivity to the audience.  And really, those fundamentals we were taught in middle school – audience, purpose, and tone – still reigns supreme in the instance of the college entrance essay. Remember they want to know you, not your verbose and snooty representative.

 

Develop (Lengthen and Strengthen) Your Body Paragraphs.

The best way to do this is to add examples that illustrate your topic.

I call this unpacking. For instance, let’s say a student had a sentence like, "Losing my friend to the two suicide drove me into a deep depression."

This writer may think, "what more can I say?"

But, through the process of unpacking, this can be developed (which means lengthened and strengthened), to a greater extent.

The writer could:

  • Describe the day/moment she found out about her friend’s death.
  • Use a metaphor to describe the feelings she was flooded with at the moment of realization.
  • Describe what it feels like to descend into deep grief and depression.
  • Paint a vivid picture of what her depression looks like. Did she stay in bed for days, weeks? Did her dog scratch at the door with his collar in his mouth in an attempt to draw her out of her room?
  • Did counselors and teachers at school pull her in to offer support?

By providing the answers to these unpacking questions, what seems like a sentence that can't be expanded further becomes one in which the expansion possibilities are limitless.

 

Fatten Up Your Conclusion

I'm a big advocate of college-bound kids tying their claim to their college goals, which I talked about in a previous post.

Another way to develop your conclusion is to project into the future and paint a brief picture of your future self. This is the self that has matriculated through the fine institution to which you're presenting your college entrance essay, and is now making use of all the skills and preparation you've received from their college or university.

Here's an example:

I know that the preparation I have received in high school is just the tip of the iceberg. The important lesson I learned here about being your authentic self, will only be expounded on once I've received the extraordinary training that your institution is so well-known for. I see myself collaborating with women all over the globe to improve the lives of women and girls. Right now, I'm just a young woman with a big vision, but I am certain that with your help, I will be an alumni equipped with all the tools to create change in the world.

Practice this. Imagine what your life will be like once you’ve gotten your degree. Then work on how you might tie that vision to one of the prompt choices on the common application.

These are just some of the ways you can polish your essay to (near) perfection and Get The Acceptance Letter.

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Come back each week for strategies like these that help college bound kids write an extraordinary college entrance essay, opening the door to the safety, financial security, and choices that a college degree provides.

Click here to receive a FREE video tutorial that shows you how to get your kid's application in front of the country's best colleges.

Better yet, tap this link and schedule a FREE call with me so we can put your child's college admissions package in your rear-view mirror!

 

 

 

 

Here are Five Lessons Your College-Bound Kids Can Learn in the Next 15 Days That Will Guarantee Them a College Acceptance Letter (#4)

Why Writing the Introduction Last is a "Secret Weapon."

Last week I likened the conclusion to a sweet smell that lingers as you exit the room. Well the introduction paragraph is the tasty appetizer that makes readers eager for the main course.

The title and the introduction paragraph are both items that should be written last. This may seem counterintuitive, as most of us have been taught to work chronologically (from beginning to end) when it comes to writing.

But, here’s why you should work on your beginning last:

Imagine you are planning a meal. The body of the essay is like the main dish. The main dish is the one that has the most ingredients and will be making the biggest impression on your guests. The main dish is also where most of the nutrients are found. Finally, the main dish is what guests are usually anticipating the most. For that reason, it takes the longest to prepare and requires most of your attention. The opening paragraph of your essay is the appetizer. The same way you wouldn't focus the majority of your meal planning time around the appetizers, you don't need to spend the majority of your time on the introduction paragraph.

Don’t misunderstand me, though, the introduction is very important. Over my 20 year career as a writing teacher, I’ve learned that an essay’s chances at a good grade can be ruined by a sub par introduction. Major error in the first sentence? Hackneyed opening? “Giving it all away” up front, leaving nothing new to be said during the rest of the essay? Each of these can leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth from which it will be hard to recover.

The beauty of working on the beginning last, however, is once you have created an incredible body and conclusion you can reverse engineer an introduction that really sets up what's happening in the body and the conclusion.

It's kind of like knowing how the movie ends first then you going back and creating a beginning that doesn't totally give it away, but bookends it in a really clever way.

For the purposes of this lesson we will be focusing on just ONE of the three main skills designed to create a wonderful and engaging introduction to your essay.
• How to write an “Gripping Opening”

The other two are:
• How to refine your “Claim”
• How to fatten your opening with “Tempting Morsels”

I have an e-book coming out soon, and I’ll go more in depth there. These blogs are supposed to strategies that can be consumed quickly, so for the purposes of this blog I am just going to deep dive into one of my favorite ways to grip the reader’s imagination from the very start -- using a quote to begin your essay.

Starting with a quote that grips the imagination, is a tried-and-true tip for creating an attention grabbing opening.

There are some pitfalls to watch out for though.

One mistake that novice writers make is to pick quotes that are overused. Another mistake is to do a poor job of tying the quote in to the topic of the essay.

Here's what I mean: "I have a dream" Is a very famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr's speech that was given during the 1964 march on Washington. Because most students "have a dream," this quote readily comes to mind. To add, it is often a poor choice because the cultural weight attached to it makes it difficult for a 17 year old writer to have an experience that can be adequately tied to the quote.

Here is an example of something I’ve seen below:

I don't know about you, but King’s dream seems to be a bit more far-reaching than the legalization of cannabis. The weight of the quote and the man associated with it greatly overshadows the topic to which it is being tied.

That was an example of opening with a quote being poorly done. Now here is an example of it done better:

Notice that the Quote is tied to the topic of the essay. Readers can see that this essay will focus on a failure that made a painful impression, but that taught a valuable lesson. It will be a failure that hurt, but ultimately helped.

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Practice this. Search for interesting quotes. Then work on how you might tie them to one of the prompt choices on the common application.

These are just some of the ways you can make sure your essay’s opening is gripping and helps you Get The Acceptance Letter.

Come back each week for strategies like these that help college bound kids write an extraordinary college entrance essay, opening the door to the safety, financial security, and choices that a college degree provides.

Click here to receive a FREE video tutorial that shows you how to get your kid's application in front of the country's best colleges.

Here are Five Lessons Your College-Bound Kids Can Learn in the Next 15 Days That Will Guarantee Them a College Acceptance Letter (#3)

Write a Good Conclusion that “Seals the Deal!”

 

A conclusion is the final impression you leave the reader. And keep in mind, your reader here is usually an admissions officer or scholarship committee member who has been confronted with lots of writing.

They have probably seen the phrase “In conclusion” many, many times.

Think of your conclusion as the perfume that remains in the room once you're gone.  You want it to be pleasing and distinctive, but not too strong, and definitely not offensive.

So how do you do that?

Well, I’ve already imbedded one hint in my comments so far.

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Avoid overused transitions: “Last,” “Finally,” and “In conclusion” should be banned from the room!

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The next trap that college bound writers fall into is simply restating their claim.

In lesson #1, we talked about how to create the claim. The claim is a sentence or group of sentences that tells the reader what the essay will be about.

The most general version of a claim was provided in lesson #2. It looked something like this:

“This experience illustrates that I have intellect, perseverance, and resilience even in the face of disappointment or failure.”

Now guess how many students I’ve read who go on to add a sentence like this in their conclusion:

So this is why this experience illustrates that I have intellect, perseverance, and resilience even in the face of disappointment or failure.

Come on!

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Instead of making this repetitive move of simply saying the claim over again, use the conclusion as a time to explain how this challenging experience positively affected you.

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Here’s an example of a brainstorm list of our “pretend” student’s reasons:

  • I learned the importance of teamwork
  • It helped me accept that failure happens, but we can learn from it
  • Taught me not to be overconfident
  • Showed me that sometimes pressure can bring out great work

I can see how this list could become some really soulful writing. Can’t you?

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The final tip I’ll give is make sure you connect your goals and interests to the school’s academic programs. Being able to connect your goals and interests with the college to whom you are submitting your entrance essay is an important skill.

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Here is an example:

“The [insert experience you had] solidified my commitment to teaching in the deaf community. This is why your program for teachers of special education with a Linguistics and Sign Language emphasis dovetails
perfectly with my goals and experiences.”

Practice this. Create two sentences. One should describe a goal or experience. The other should tie in a program at a prospective college.

These are just some of the ways you can make sure your essay’s ending leaves a lasting impression and helps you Get The Acceptance Letter.

Come back each week for strategies like these that help college bound kids write an extraordinary college entrance essay, opening the door to the safety, financial security, and choices that a college degree provides.

Click here to receive a FREE video tutorial that shows you how to get your kid's application in front of the country's best colleges.

Here are Five Lessons Your College-Bound Kids Can Learn in the Next 15 Days That Will Guarantee Them a College Acceptance Letter (#2)

#2: Now That You've Picked a Prompt & Created Your Claim, Now It's Time To PROVE Your Claim!

A great personal statement essay is made up of one or more “little stories” that prove your claim. Most often, your claim is something like:

“This experience illustrates that I have 
intellect, perseverance, and resilience even 
in the face of disappointment or failure."

Ultimately, the claim needs to prove that you would be a good fit for the college or university to which you are applying.

Often times, students have trouble figuring out how much of the story to tell. The story or example cannot be the only thing in the personal statement essay. You also need a good introduction and a conclusion, and some people include more than one story.


FIRST, YOU NEED TO DECIDE WHAT ARE THE KEY LESSONS THE STORY IMPARTS?

Let's imagine that your story is about finding out that your debate team had been practicing for the wrong set of questions the whole time, which caused you to stay up all night before the competition reworking your arguments. In the end you did not win the debate, but you made a respectable showing, and you learned some things.

So the first question is, what did this experience teach you?

Answer: I learned that when you pull together with a team on a clear goal you can achieve almost anything.


OK. NOW THAT YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT THE STORY TEACHES, YOU CAN SKETCH OUT THE EVENTS THAT LED TO THE LEARNING OF THE LESSON.

I suggest three events representing a beginninga middle, and an end of the story.

Here's what this student’s debate story sketch might look like.

·      Beginning: Our team received the document with the issues to study for the upcoming debate. We spent a lot of time preparing intricate plans to do the best we could, and we were hoping to win.

·      Middle: About 48 hours before the debate we received an email from the organization referencing the issues and they were totally different than the ones we’d been practicing. We realized we had read the document wrong.

·      End: We got together and pulled an “all nighter,” reworking our opening statements and arguments, and we completed it just as the sun was coming up.


THE NEXT STEP WOULD BE TO ADD “FEELING WORDS” TO EACH OF THE PARTS OF THE STORY. FOR INSTANCE, HOW DID THE WRITER FEEL AFTER THE BEGINNING EVENTS?

Answer: She probably felt confident, excited, prepared, and hopeful.


THEN YOU SHOULD BRAINSTORM SOME SENSORY WORDS, AND FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE LIKE A SIMILES AND METAPHORS.

Sensory words are words that speak to the five senses: hearing, taste, touch, sight, and smell.  For instance, “The musty library and dusty stacks held all the research we needed.”

Or maybe the debate document fresh from the printer “felt warm and inviting on their hands.”

Similes and metaphors are comparisons of two unlike things. For instance, “the disappointment stung like a bee.”

Or maybe upon the receiving the email with the issues to study for the upcoming debate, “they felt like a lottery winners.” 


YOU SHOULD DO THIS FOR EACH OF THE THREE PARTS OF YOUR STORY. THE POINT HERE IS TO DEVELOP A BANK OF MATERIAL TO CHOOSE FROM BEFORE YOU ASSEMBLE THE PERSONAL STATEMENT ESSAY.

This is pre-writing and brainstorming, and it is like making clay pottery. It is much easier to whittle down a lot of clay into a small piece like an ashtray, than to take a small amount of clay and try to turn it into a large item like a tall vase.


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Come back each week for more valuable lessons on how to write an extraordinary college entrance essay.

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Here are Five Lessons Your College-Bound Kids Can Learn in the Next 15 Days That Will Guarantee Them a College Acceptance Letter (#1)

#1: Pick a Prompt and Figure Out How to Respond To It

Note: If you haven't created an account on the COMMON APPLICATION, you should do so immediately.  


The common application is where you can apply to over 700 colleges in one place for one fee.  And even the fee can be waived.


FIRST, change the prompt from a question to a statement and insert personal pronouns so that the statement sounds as if you are saying it right now:
HERE’S THE ORIGINAL:
"Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."
HERE IS HOW IT SOUNDS MORE PERSONALIZED:
I have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful I believe my application would be incomplete without it. Here is my story:

This is a good start but now you have to decide which of the items (background, interest, identity, or talent) if omitted would make your application incomplete.

Since I don't know you, I will make up an “example student” to show you how this prompt might become further refined and even segue into a claim for the resulting essay.

Now remember the personalized version of the prompt reads like this so far: “I have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful I believe my application would be incomplete without it. Here is my story:”

For the purposes of this example, we’re going to say that that an INTEREST that is MEANINGFUL to the “example student” is WRITING. With that in mind, let’s further refine the PROMPT to reflect that INTEREST.

SO FAR WE HAVE: “I have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful I believe my application would be incomplete without it. Here is my story:”

HERE IS HOW IT SOUNDS FURTHER REFINED: “My application would be incomplete without mentioning my writing. Here is my story:”

Okay! Our “example student” now has a solid direction for responding to the prompt. They know their essay will focus on their interest and talent for writing.


Come back each week to get the continuation of this lesson on how to write an extraordinary college entrance essay.