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The Killer Essay Process

The Killer Essay Process

The Process: Ten Steps to Writing the Killer Essay

1) Carefully Read the Application Questions
Each application question is a general prompt that always asks one thing: "Who are you?" Do not spend too much time or space writing about the prompt itself, but concentrate on how it personally affects you.

2) Banish Writer's Block
Blank pages are the enemy of not only most college and graduate applicants, but even professional writers. Click this link for warm-up exercises guaranteed to tame your inner critic.

3) Brainstorm for Ideas
Take a day or two off before you re-read the choices and decide which prompt gets your juices flowing. If it feels interesting and natural to write about, your admissions officer will enjoy reading it. If it feels like total torture, your reader will probably agree.

4) The Rough Draft(s)
Set a timer for 15-20 minutes. Experiment with writing about different topics or points of view. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Just focus on content. When you reread them, remember, they’re supposed to be rough. But you might find one word, sentence, or phrase, that’s a gem. Start your next draft with it. If you hate it, set the timer and write about something else.

5) The Rewrite(s)
10 steps killer essayMost professional writers will tell you that writing is about rewriting. So print out a copy of your most recent draft, then grab a red pen and highlight the good stuff, cross out the bad, scribble new ideas in the margins and include these changes in your next draft.

6) Read It Aloud
At this point, you have become too familiar with the words in your essay. When you read it aloud, you will be able to hear the essay in a more objective way. Pay attention to it’s rhythm, tone, and style. Read it aloud to others, notice their reactions and jot down their comments.

7) Editing with Results
Now is the time to switch “hats” and become your own editor. The following questions are just a few you might ask. You can also give this list of questions to someone who has read your essay recently.

  • Does the opening sentence grab the reader’s attention?
  • Does the essay focus on one subject or experience?
  • Does it communicate how the subject or experience has changed you?
  • Are the sentences lean and free of unnecessary words or repeats?
  • Is it written in a dynamic style, using active verbs, colorful adjectives, and specific examples?
  • Does the beginning and length of each sentence vary the style?
  • Does the ending sound like an ending?

If the answer to any of these questions is "no", REWRITE!

8) Feedback on the Final Draft
Get reactions from two or three smart friends or family members who truly understand that the application essay should not be about anything that the Admissions Officer will already know from the rest of your application. The tone should be casual. Wit is good. Personal is fine. An academic English paper with big words is not. Take some time to think about their feedback. Try not to take any criticism personally nor accept every suggestion. If you agree with some of their points, you know what to do: REWRITE!

9) Polish Your Final Draft
After a few days, with a fresh perspective, read your last draft aloud again and add any details that will make your essay shine. You know the drill: REWRITE!

10.) Proofread Your Final Draft
You have read your essay so many times that it is difficult to catch the typos, misspellings and grammatical errors that Admissions Officers hate. Ask one or two "Type A" English wizards to proof your last draft. Once you have corrected every error, consider your essay done. Congratulations!


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Ready, Aim, Fire!

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It's time to start your college search. But not so fast. Do a little research first. Check out informative college websites, take an online tour, read reliable college guide books and get feedback from friends who are already in college. Deciding where you will fit in and thrive for four years to come is a journey with many detours. So don't rush it. Give yourself plenty of time to get lost, change directions or stop and refuel.


Try It On First

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Highlight Your Passion

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Colleges want a renaissance class made up of all types of students. What is your special talent? What sets you apart? Everyone has something they are passionate about, whether it’s quirky, off-the-beaten-path or more mainstream. Your individual passion is the thing that sets you apart from other college applicants and will ultimately round out a diverse class. Susan's specialty is to draw out your uniqueness and show you how to successfully communicate “who you are.”


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