College essay tips for college student applicants

Hamilton Education helps students prepare for college and the CEO stopped by Good Morning San Diego to give some advice on writing college essays.

Here are a few key tips to keep in mind from Hamilton Education:

1. Your essay is not really an essay—it’s not proving a point or making an argument, or even “answering a question,” in most cases: it is instead telling a story. It’s really a memoir, more than an essay. Because it’s a story, you should use the basic elements of story-telling, rather than essay-writing.

2. A few thousand years ago, Aristotle said, “Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end—that’s why plays have three acts.” Today he would add, “that’s why movies and TV shows have a three-act structure, too.” Your college story should be built more like a movie script than the essays you are taught to write in school. It should have a “third act.” Most bad college essays don’t tell a story—they’re more like motivational posters, with a single slogan or moment, rather than a movie.

3. There are basically only two stories: A) Something happened to me B) I happened to something. If you are middle class—not homeless, not seriously ill, both of your parents are living—then you may not have a “something happened to me” story. You’ll be like 95% of my students—”I happened to something.” I created, I built, I led, etc. Of course, we want to know how and why you did these things. And most importantly, who you are. But your college essay most likely should be what you did to create, build, lead, or make something rather than a slogan about your life philosophy.

4. The opening is very important—make sure it introduces the central character, rather than an abstraction.

5. As they say in creative writing seminars, Show, don’t Tell. First draft: “My first violin was very inexpensive.” Final Draft: “My first violin was made in China and smelled like nail polish.”

6. Be likable. If your essay sounds like you think you are somehow simply better than other people, you should keep in mind that the admissions readers are, in fact, other people.

7. Sound like yourself, not a 50-year old parent, relative, or neighbor.

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