The ultimate college essay writing guide


By Cissy Ming, Copy Editor

Let’s face it: as much as we love Conestoga, we can’t stay in high school forever. Sooner or later, we all have to say goodbye to days spent fending off bees in the courtyard and cramming for that Chemistry test everyone forgot about until the period before. Why not consider college — 93 percent of your friends are doing it! Either four more years of school or work, gross.

But before embarking on your college journey, you need to apply to schools and then mentally prepare for months of nonstop arguing with your parents. This means taking the SAT and associated subject tests, getting at least one teacher who doesn’t hate you to write a recommendation and writing essays — the toughest part of the process.

Much like the memoir or short story, the college essay is a genre of writing all its own, characterized by overwrought prose, expressions of hormonal teen angst and abundant hyperbole. Popular among…well, nobody, that’s why schools require them, such works serve as entertainment for the undergraduates who read them and sources of the previously mentioned teenage angst. Mastering the art of the college essay often requires weeks of deliberation and dozens of drafts, a luxury today’s busy high school students don’t have.

College essays are big business, with professional writing consultants earning up to $70 an hour to advise students on how to write their 600-word literary masterpieces. Luckily, you have me to provide my nuggets of wisdom for no cost at all! Donations to my Patreon are welcome, though.

1.Build a list of college essay-worthy experiences.

Do you spend your summers in rural Indian villages building roads and teaching the children English? Has your time there taught you that only you, a wealthy American, can change the lives of the poor and underprivileged of the world?

Are you the founder of ’Stoga Underwater Basket-Weaving for Puppies with Cancer Club (SUBWPCC)? Have you prevailed against the challenges of leadership as club president (all for the puppies, of course)?

If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, then congratulations! Skip to Step 2 and bask in your moral superiority. If not, there’s an entire industry devoted to teen volunteer tourism, provided your parents can shell out several thousand dollars that would better serve the community in the hands of a legitimate charity. Starting a club at Conestoga is incredibly easy, the more the merrier. The puppies will thank you for your service.

Keep in mind, colleges always appreciate authenticity and nothing says “I’m an individual” better than following in the footsteps of every other student seeking admission into the Ivy League.

1a. Turn ordinary things into essay ideas.

Alternatively, you could write about the meaning behind experiences most people take for granted. This shows that you’re a deep thinker, not like all the airheads and dumb jocks that taint the air you breathe at Conestoga. For example, write your essay about how Nutella embodies your intellectual interests – as a Very Smart Person ™, you enjoy blending academic disciplines to reach new conclusions just like Nutella blends hazelnut and chocolate to create delicious spread. I can assure you that no reasonable person will want to punch that pretentious smirk off your face.

1b. Make something up.

College is the key to a successful future, or so society tells you. Does it matter if you stretch the truth a little or exaggerate in service of the six-figure salary and illustrious career a college education will deliver? You’ll never be the interesting, intelligent person colleges look for, so pretend.

2. Read the prompts and choose one…or write about how essay prompts are instruments of oppression used by the establishment.

Whether you’re working on the Common App essay or a supplemental essay, it helps to know your options. Prompts communicate what the school wants to see from applicants and the image it wants to project, whether it seeks Very Smart People ™ (*cough* UChicago *cough*) or brands itself as the cool school but, much like the dads at the Girl Scouts Daddy-Daughter Dance, fails miserably. After reading the prompts, find one that fits your preferred essay topic. It’s alright if you need to force the fit. If you haven’t bothered with Step 1, then select the one you think will be easiest to write.

3. Start writing.

First, catch up on your TV show binge-watching, check your phone, prepare yourself a five-course meal, color coordinate your pens, alphabetize your books by author’s last name and take a nice, long nap. Wake up one day before your deadline and repeat step one while compounding your anxiety over your lack of progress. Take out a sheet of paper (or open a Word Doc) and write (or type) your name, the date, address, phone number, school name, temperature, current wind speeds and eye color in the upper right hand corner.

3a. Face the fact that you have zero idea about what to write.

This realization should ideally occur at 11 p.m. Eastern time on the night you promised your parents you would submit your application.

3b. Write something, anything.

When writing your college essay, using the maximum number of clichés possible will make you and the readers as happy as a clam. Include as many references to the prompt as you can. With all the essays the readers encounter each day, they might forget that you were writing about your role model and not a coming of age experience.

One thing everyone loves is drama, which means you should handle your essay like a soap opera script. Cast yourself as the beleaguered hero fighting the forces of a monstrous villain or daunting odds, however insignificant the occasion. You are the star of your essay, so feel free to brag about your achievements in an obvious way. Readers will take notice of your forthright nature and self-confidence. For example: “As tears cut clean tracks down my dirty cheeks, I comforted myself by recalling the Best Line Leader award I won in third grade. No matter what challenges I would meet, I knew my line leader skills would guide me through.”

For Why __?-type prompts, don’t panic if you know near nothing about the school beyond the name. Maybe you just decided to apply because you saw someone wearing the college’s sweatshirt one day. Maybe you think the campus is nice. There’s no shame in admitting it. You are just as capable of writing this essay as applicants whose entire families have attended the school and have dreamed of attending since childhood. Look at the college’s brochure. Name-drop their notable programs, include any statistics mentioned and add a healthy dose of self-promotion.

Follow this template, Mad Libs style: “From the moment of my conception, I always knew I wanted to attend Overprice University for its Over and Rated School of Engineering. I know the Over and Rated School of Engineering is the perfect place to develop my love of inventing, which began when I created the first perpetual motion machine when I was 5 years old. With a 3:1 faculty to student ratio, including janitors and cafeteria workers, Overprice University values learning and views students as individuals and not just walking ATMs.”

Once you finish writing, there’s no need to revise. Revisions are for untalented writers and people with nothing better to do. Submit your essay knowing you’ve put your best foot forward.

Disclaimer: Do not, under any circumstances, follow the advice outlined previously. The author takes no responsibility for any issues that may arise as a result of taking this article as serious advice.

Cissy Ming can be reached at [email protected].