Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Six-Figure Skill

If I say the word “essay” I know you’ll exit out of this immediately. But if you do - it could be a terrible mistake. 

Because for some essays -  every sentence could be worth thousands.

Someone who helped me with my scholarship essays once gave me that advice when I was feeling overwhelmed by writing so many extra essays in addition to all of my other homework. And that advice paid off.

My essays once won me $110,000 in scholarships (see Jack Kent Cooke scholarship whose applications are now open). And a $2,000 research grant. And admission into the college of my choice.  And a free trip to Boston (and just submitted one today for a trip to NY). And countless other opportunities.

What have your essays gotten you?

If nothing – yet – then I can show you how.

The thing about community college is that most students have to apply to college twice. And (should) apply for scholarships often.

In addition – so many great opportunities out there require essays. And yet it seems so many are tempted to just fly through these types of essays and just "hope" for the best. 

But you can do much more to ensure you are writing winning essays.  And you don’t have to be an English whiz to craft a compelling and winning essay. There are particular secrets and skills to use.

And yes it will take more effort and time than just typing out the first 500 words that come to you and thinking you're done. But the rewards can literally be thousands and thousands of dollars per sentence.

Trust me, it’s worth it. And you can do it. 

So get excited (okay so I know it's hard to get excited about essays...but will help) and get ready to write essays that will get you into the schools you want, win you the scholarships you deserve, and open you up to opportunities you could have never imagined. 

If you’re not getting ready to apply to any colleges or scholarships in the next 2 months be sure to  bookmark this blog post and read this again. If you follow these tips exactly you are guaranteed to start getting incredible results from your essays. 

What should I write about?
I have tutored many students in writing their college application and scholarship essays and anytime they bring me their first draft it is usually painfully boring. They write what they think they are “supposed” to write, and end up dryly listing details of an experience or accomplishments. I work with them to think about who they really are and how to communicate that in the most interesting way possible. Here are the secrets to choosing the best topic for your essay.
  • Read the essay prompt question at least 5 times before you start. Make sure you understand EXACTLY what the question is looking for.
  • Once you have narrowed down exactly what they want (and usually it’s pretty general), think about your unique life experiences and what you can draw from to answer the question.
  • Focus on any obstacles you’ve overcome, insights you’ve drawn, and how you’ve reached personal success.
  • Paint a picture with your writing. Use all five senses. Help them see and feel your experience and your life story.
  • Be focused and have a goal in mind for your life. You may not know what you want to do, but many essays seek to find people who are passionate, driven, and know what they want to do with their life. It’s okay if you’re not 100% sure, but you must have a clear direction for most essays. It may change and that’s okay. But for the essay you must clearly communicate the vision you have for your life as of now and how the scholarship, college, or opportunity will help fuel that vision.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about your deepest struggles. But do not wallow. Explain how you broke through the barriers in your life and how those obstacles shape the person you are today and the goals you now have for your life.

Okay so now I have my topic - how do I write it well?
  • Write the first draft way ahead of time. At least a month before the essay is due.
  • Remember your audience. Who will be reading this? What do they care about? (e.g. admissions committees want someone who can contribute to their college’s reputation; scholarship committees want someone who is deserving of the scholarship and will represent them well)
  • Your first draft should never be the final draft. It should go through at least 3 full edits.
  • Review the essay prompt question again after you finish each paragraph to ensure you’re on the right track.
  • Use your best writing and use (but DO NOT overuse) the thesaurus when appropriate.
  • There is no quick fix to improve your writing. Read often and write often. What helped me the improve my writing more than anything else was a professor who sat me down and edited my essay sentence by sentence. If you can - find someone who will do that with you. 
  • After you write, wait at least a day until you edit.
  • Read your essay aloud when you self-edit.
  • Ask professors and writing centers to edit your essay.

 As you're going through this process keep reminding yourself why you are writing the essay and what the rewards could be. And never forget that the writing process itself will help you improve your grades and your focus.  

You will always be very busy when it is time to write these essays and it can often be hard to find the motivation when you aren’t getting a “grade” on the essay. But these essays are so valuable, and the rewards are given to those who do the work. And those rewards are often life changing.

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