How to Write an Essay That Doesn't Suck

Also, what Brad, Angelina, the Biebs and a decapitated body can learn ya and why your English teacher may be the worst source of advice and the deadliest sin committed by college essay-writers

Most college essays suck. Really suck.


Before I get to that, let me give you a little “back story.”

First, the college essay isn’t really THAT important!

Shocked? Don’t get your undergarments in a bunch.

The essay, or personal statement, is somewhat important, because it gives the reader of your application an opportunity to get to know more about you, beyond the transcripts and standardized test scores comprising your application.

It give you a chance to stand out.

But how important IS it?

My best guess is that the essay constitutes 10% of the application.

But yes, if your credentials are marginal, meaning you have the “chops” on paper to get in, but you’re competing with 7,000 other kids with the same creds, that’s where this 10% takes on greater weight.

To understand how to write an “Essay So Compelling That Admissions Officers Will Crawl Naked Over Broken Glass To Admit Your Student” you need to understand your reader.

Typically, an admissions officer has a stack of about four million applications to read by the end of the weekend. Yours is buried in that stack.

If your essay talks about “The plethora and myriad of leadership experiences” you aggregated during your four hours at the soup kitchen last Thanksgiving, you will lose her. Fast.

That’s one hint.

Another thought: you can get an “A” on your English paper by writing a left-brained essay: solid opening, well-developed body, strong conclusion, correct grammar and spelling.

But while your English paper gets you a great grade, there’s one big reason why it would be a LOUSY college application essay:

It’s B-O-R-I-N-G!

Your essay needs to cut through the clutter. A great essay will jump off the page, grab the overburdened, bored-out-of-her-skull reader by the throat, get eight centimeters from her face and scream in a shrill, spittle-spraying voice, “READ ME, DAMNIT! THIS IS WHO I AM! YOU’D BE A MORON NOT TO ADMIT ME!!!!”

(Note to dumb readers: I don’t mean literally.)

How do you stop her dead in her tracks? How do you learn this style of writing?

Here’s an unconventional idea. Warning – if you mention you’re doing this to a teacher or other “schmexpert” who knows everything, you will be ridiculed. Here’s the tip:

Read the tabloids!


Headless Body In Topless Bar

That’s the most famous headline ever to appear in the New York Post. Grabs your attention, doesn’t it?

Sure, that’s not exactly how your personal statement should start, but…

~Dead Horse Beater Alert~

You’re recall that this is about is marketing yourself? (I may have mentioned this once…or 37 times.)

Great marketing gets a product – or college applicant – noticed.

Your essay better do this, or your application will die a horrible, sad, lonely death.

Look, there’s a reason why some of the highest paid writers on the planet create for tabloids like the Enquirer and publications of that ilk – their job is to grab your attention.

Their task isn’t easy. Studies show that we are bombarded by 4,000 or so messages per day. So by the time we’re at the checkout line at the supermarket, we’re pretty numb, fried without realizing it.

So THAT’S why the latest gossip about the Kardashians or Justin Biebs always catches my eye!

And you? (If you claim you don’t notice this things, you’re either a dirty, rotten liar or a robot.)

So think of your essay like a (modified) tabloid, but keep the alien invasion theories to yourself.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite essay openers that I read a few years ago. It was written by a Jewish kid who attended a local parochial school – funny/interesting all by itself!

He told a nice story about how he overcame anti-Semitism and bullying initially to become president of this club, captain of that team, etc.

But he would not have earned the RIGHT to tell his story without a snappy, opening sentence that drew the reader in, promising a reward for continuing to read.

His opener went something like this:

So there I was, three years after my bar mitzvah, about to receive Communion, and…

I’m smiling as I write this! How can you NOT want to read the rest?

So think “Tabloid” when you tackle your college essay!

Your Correspondent,

– Andy Lockwood

P.S. Attention parents of Juniors (Class of 2015) – if you’re stressed, upset, floundering, wondering what colleges you should apply to, whether you have a chance to get in, if there’s any way to cut your costs, etc., book a f.ree 20 minute strategy session (first come, first served).

P.P.S. Thanks to all who helped Pearl and me launch How to Pay “Wholesale” for College – this book made it to Number 1 Best Seller status on Amazon! (Seriously, this isn’t an April Fools joke!)

If you purchased, remember to write a review – all reviewers get entered into a raffle drawing for the new Amazon Paperwhite – review must be submitted today to be considered!