Writing a Winning College Essay

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This summer, it is great to have my daughter around more, as she is not taking college classes this summer.  She will be a rising junior next year, which I have not adjusted to quite yet...lol!  

But she is thriving at college, and that is SO good to see.  One of her favorite activities is a college club that she helped organize, for students interested in dance.  This is her publicity shot for the dance/jazz/classes and club.

Two years ago, around this time, we were working on the college essay, and that is what I would like to share about today.

For those of you who are aiming towards college.... do the words College Essay make you cringe?  They did for me.  I was feeling a more than a little nervous about this task, and my teen was, too....

As it turned out, the essay was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be, and my daughter wrote an essay that helped her get accepted by multiple colleges. 

This Personal College Essay serves as an introduction of your student to the college, similar to what an interview would do.  And it is a personal essay, of course.  But for many teens, it can be quite difficult  to write about oneself.  More about that later.

Our First Step: Finding the Essay Prompts

We began by googling the Common Application, where we found the directions for their essay, and all the essay prompts that were listed there.  Some colleges use their own applications, which will have different essay prompts to choose from.

Here are some sample essay prompts to show you what they might look like:

Sample Essay Prompts 

NOTE - These are NOT the current essay prompts.

  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.
  2. Describe a difficulty or disability that you have, and how you have worked to overcome it.Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  3. Discuss an event or a place where you felt especially comfortable.  Why was it special to you?  Describe in detail.
  4. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
  5. What skills have your developed in leadership?  How can you use these to help other?.

....All well and good....When we had found our prompts, neither of us had any idea how to choose one!

We did know that the college essay was the best way for the college get to know the student.  So we began by listing the things that we  wanted the college to know....about my teen.  This questions helped us to decide what to focus on.....

What accomplishments, experiences, etc can best describe your student to the college?

Our Second Step: Brainstorming

Together, we made a list of things that we wanted the colleges to know about my teen.  Things that would tell the college the important things about my daughter.  We listed - leadership activities, and her interests, such as videomaking, dance, and photography.  

We also thought of those things that would show perseverance, such as doing irish dance over 8 years.  And we also listed her volunteer activities.  Of course, every student's list, would be different.

Step 3 - Back to the ESSAY Prompts

Then we looked back at the essay prompts, and thought about how our list might fit with one of the prompts.  I found this quote to help us:

Nancy Burgoyne, from Fat Envelope Essays, says:

"Choose a topic that allows your student to shine. Think of the essay as kind of an interview with college admissions.  Pick whichever prompt will help the college to get to know your teen better. "(taken from an interview, August 14, 2014)

Here's some of our thoughts on this....My teen wanted to talk about a special youth conference that she attended, that was meaningful to her, maybe with essay prompt #4.  

I wanted her to share about her leadership activities, so they would know that she had some skills in that area, and suggested essay prompt #5. We both thought it might be helpful to talk about her experiences overcoming some visual issues, such as with prompt #2.  Then we brainstormed a little more, put it away, and went to the park, yes! 

We didn't get it out again until the following week.....

Brainstorming, and setting it aside, were key steps for us, and 
helped my daughter and I, to de-stress and come back later to it with a clear mind. So which of your current essay prompts would make your student shine?  Which one inspires him/her?  What is he/she passionate about?  

What's happening at your house this week?  I love reading your comments. There is also much more on the college essay in my new e-book:

Get my best tips on college from a homeschool perspective!  Make your high school planning easier!  A great gift for your high schooler.

Kindle is on Amazon  or in print, too 

"This book guides the reader step by step through the maze of requirements for college AND gives the gift of comparing requirements for various types of colleges. I am beyond grateful for this book, and highly suggest it to every homeschool family regardless of the stage one is at. Being able to see a long-term educational plan, laid out so effectively, is a gift. 
.......Theresa Harmon, homeschool mom, WA state

What's included in the book?  
Check out the review on The Curriculum Choice.  

 Good News!

Subscribers will get the first chapter free! 

Click here to get yours!

Thanks for stopping by,


Betsy is mom to her 20 year old daughter whom she homeschooled from day one.  She blogs at BJ's Homeschool, about the early yearshigh school & college and wrote a new e-book on college..   She offers free homeschool help and messages at BJ's Consulting

Want to stay in touch?  

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