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.


Here is what just one client has to say about the Get The Acceptance Letter System:

 

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

Bonus: Download a FREE video tutorial HERE!

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.