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Essay Topics: Brainstorming Your Way to a Kick-A** Idea

Aah, brainstorming topic ideas, this is the fun part.  Here is where you get to think of all the interesting, unique and special things about yourself, with no pressure to select a topic or thesis at this point, if you’ve started the process early enough.  You can relax and get creative.

Give yourself plenty of time before the drop-dead deadline for the essay so you’ve got time to gather ideas, review them, reject what doesn’t work, and hone in and elaborate on what does.  I recommend carrying around a small notebook or journal to note ideas in when they occur to you.

I’ve given you some brainstorming prompts here to help you get started.

Keep in mind, the goal of brainstorming is to develop ideas, so don’t censor yourself in the exercises below.  Just let it flow out of you.  ; )


One brainstorming process you can use is called the “brain dump.”  Start filling up a page with things you’ve done, places you’ve been, accomplishments, goals achieved, hopes, dreams and aspirations, disappointments, stream of consciousness daydreaming stuff . . . just get it all down. Write, write, write, without filters!


Listmaking is another way you can come up with topic ideas.  Use these listmaking prompts to help you get started.

~ Make a list of important things you’ve done in school and out of school.
~ Make a list of what you feel your best traits/strongest attributes are.
~ Make a list of the experiences that have meant the most to you in your life.
~ Make a list of your accomplishments. Here you want to think not only of the obvious ones, the ones you’ve been formally recognized for, but also of smaller ones that are meaningful to you in a more personal way.


~ Think about your favorite books and movies – why are they your favorites?  Has a particular book or movie influenced you or changed your perception about something in a meaningful way?
~ Look at something you’ve worked very hard for and achieved – what made you successful?  Was it focus and determination?  Mindset?  Passion? Unwavering commitment?
~ Is there something you really wanted and worked hard for, then failed to get?  How did you react to this disappointment? 
~ What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to overcome in your life, and how did you handle it?  What lessons did you learn?
~ If you could have one-on-one conversations with any three people, living or dead, who would they be, and what would you ask them/talk to them about?
~ What activities of yours outside of school bring you the most joy and fulfillment?
~ Poll a few friends and family members and ask what they would write about you if they were writing your admissions essay. Alternatively, ask a few of these folks to make a list of 3-5 your key personality traits, and see if you notice a theme in their responses. 
~ Looking ahead 5 years and acting as if everything you want for yourself in the next 5 years has been accomplished, what does your life look like?  What were the steps you took to get there?
~ What most interests you?  What do you care passionately about?

What the brainstorming process is meant to do is give you a bunch of stuff to begin working with.  The answer to any one of the questions above is not necessarily going to be your best essay topic.  But if you answer several of the questions, say in a “brain dump” in a Word document, or old school on a legal pad, you will begin to see connections, or a “theme,” about yourself. 

The brainstorming exercises are a way for you to begin the process.  You could answer all these questions in a notebook or on your computer, then set it aside for a couple of days and go back to it.  Let questions simmer in your mind if you can’t answer them right away.  Come back to them. I bet you’ll begin to see some overriding themes jump out at you. You may even have one of those “aha” moments where you know exactly what to write about.

(For more essay writing prompts and other great tips for writing a stellar college application essay, go to my website at http://www.theessaymentor.com/ and grab your FREE essay writing guide today!)


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Essay Writing Nuts and Bolts: A 6-Step Process

In my free guide, How to Write a College Application Essay That Gets You In, I outline a basic 6-step process to writing your college application essay that goes like this:

1)  Brainstorm and choose a topic

2)  Write the first draft and put aside for a few days (or at least a few hours)

3)  Revise; write the second draft

4)  Review and revise draft two; make edits. This is your final draft.

Or not. I encourage you to write as many drafts as you need to get to diamond-like clarity. Brilliance is encouraged.  ; ) 

5) Proofread and polish

6) Let it go

However, every writer is different, so you may not follow this process to the letter, and that’s OK. There is a metric ton of writing advice out there with its very own 4-step or 5-step or 10-step process, so you can surely find what works best for you if this isn’t it.                   

That said, at a very minimum you want to write a draft, set it aside, come back to it after a few days/hours,  then revise and improve upon it until you are satisfied, and last but not least, make sure to proofread, proofread, proofread!

And remember, there is no one else like you on Earth, which means there is no one else who can tell the story you can tell!   : )

(To grab your FREE guide on how to write a stellar college application essay, please visit my website at http://www.theessaymentor.com/ to download your copy today!)

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Choosing An Essay Topic: Your Content-Worthy Life

So I’m reading one of my favorite blogs this morning, written by Jonathan Fields, author, entrepreneur, and professional speaker, and his post just happens to be dead-on related to what I’ve been trying to share recently with a few students in my orbit.

You know, the ones who are struggling with topic selection for their essays.  The ones who say,  “but I don’t know what to write about.”   Or, “nothing important has happened to me.” Or, “I haven’t rescued a child from a burning building or scaled Annapurna or overcome disease/poverty/death’s door,” etc.  You get the idea.

Well, I’m here to tell you, you don’t need to have done any of those things to write a killer essay. Your topic doesn’t have to be exotic or dramatic or life-shatteringly memorable.  It can be about a small moment in time. Something usual, even, as long as it’s something deeply meaningful to you.

It can be about something that changed your perspective, or taught you an important lesson.  And there are many of these moments in each person’s life.  Even if you are a high school sophomore/junior/senior. 

Trust me, important things have happened to you.

And although Jonathan Field’s blog post (linked below) is an adult’s perspective on finding topics to write about, his premise is useful for those of you struggling with your college application essay topic:  you have a content-worthy life, and there is stuff in it you can mine for a kick-a** essay.

Check out Jonathan Fields’ blog post here.


(To grab your FREE guide on how to write a stellar college application essay, please visit my website at http://www.theessaymentor.com/ to download your copy today!)

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First Step for Writing a Killer College Application Essay: Mindset

That’s right, the first step is mindset.

Now, I know a lot of people might say, “What’s ‘mindset’ got to do with the essay writing process?  I just want to know how to write a great college application essay.”

But the truth is, if you don’t start the process with the right mindset, the writing part is going to be a lot more challenging and stressful than it needs to be.

So what is the “correct mindset?”  

It’s this: You want to know before you begin writing that you can do this well.  Believe that you do have lots of great insights and experiences from which to draw to create a stellar essay. Believe that you can write an essay that will help get you into the college of your choice. 

Because it’s undeniably true. 

If you give yourself enough time to brainstorm, choose a topic, write a first draft, write a second draft, then edit, proofread and polish, you’re there!

See, knowing this going in, and I mean utterly believing it in your core, will help reduce the stress you feel when you sit down to write.  You’ll be relaxed, and when you are in that state of relaxation, the brainstorming, topic selection, and writing are all going to flow much more easily.

On the other hand, if you’re freaked out by the process, you’re going to be scattered and nervous and unable to focus properly.  And this task is one that requires focus and concentration. 

The other part of correct mindset is, don’t go into the writing process thinking that your entire future rests on the completion of a college application essay.  It does not!  That mindset creates way too much stress.  And stress reduces focus.

Yes, this is a very important piece of writing, and a lot is riding on how well you do it, but if you’ve given yourself enough time for each stage of the essay writing process, then you will have no problem knocking it out of the ballpark.  You know you can do this.

And I know you can do this, because if you’re reading this blog post right now, that means you’re invested in writing a kick-a** essay, and you’ll do what it takes to get the job done.

(For more on proper mindset and other tips and techniques for writing a killer college application essay, visit my website at http://www.theessaymentor.com/ and download your FREE essay writing guide today!)


The Purpose of the College Application Essay

So, just what are colleges looking for when they read your college application essay? 

When reading your essay, admissions committees want to see:

Evidence of your writing abilities – they want to see that you can write in a clear and organized way. The essay showcases your writing skills, and your ability to organize your thoughts into a coherent, structured narrative.  You will be doing a lot of this kind of writing in college, and admissions committees want to see that you’ve got what it takes.

Evidence of reasonable goals and expectations – they want to see that you can clearly convey what you want to study and why.

What you can bring to a college campus — the essay will reveal your unique personality and character.  The portrait you paint of yourself says a great deal about both your qualifications and your individuality and uniqueness.

Your essay is meant to reveal what you think and feel is important about your world.  Colleges want to know about your preferences, your values, and your thought process.

Colleges want to gain insights into you that aren’t revealed in your test scores, transcripts or letters of recommendation. They want to know what makes you unique.  Your GPA and test scores may paint you as a stellar student, but the essay will tell the admissions committee something special and interesting about you they don’t already know from reviewing the rest of your application packet.

So, your essay needs to:

~ Persuade the admissions committee that you are worthy of admission

~ And show the admissions committee that you are more than a GPA and a standardized test score — you are a real-life, unique and interesting person.

And this is where brainstorming and pre-writing come in.  Through brainstorming exercises, you’ll begin to see connections that define the person you are, and from there, narrow down your topic choice to something you can write about persuasively and effectively, that reveals the real, and unique, you.

(To grab your FREE guide on how to write a stellar college application essay, please visit my website at http://www.theessaymentor.com/ to download your copy today!)

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Grab Your Free Essay Writing Guide!

Would you like some help writing your college application essay?

I’ve written a 20-page essay-writing guide — completely free to you, no strings attached — on crafting a stellar college application essay. 

Inside this free guide, I’ll share:

* effective tips and tricks for writing a college application essay that helps get you in 

* what colleges are looking for in the essay 

* guidance on topic selection, writing mechanics, editing, and more.  

To grab your free essay writing guide, simply visit my website www.theessaymentor.com and enter your e-mail address in the form provided. You will instantly receive an e-mail containing the link to download your free essay writing guide!  That’s all you have to do — there truly are no strings attached!

Entering your e-mail address will also get you my free Essay Mentor Writing Tips E-mail Newsletter, filled with more essay writing tips, and delivered to your e-mail inbox over the coming days and weeks.

Please visit www.theessaymentor.com today to sign up and receive your free guide!

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Why the College Application Essay Is So Important

You’re in the process of applying to college.  You know how important your course of study, grades, class rank, GPA, SAT scores and EC’s are to your candidacy.  You also have a resumé that boasts summer activities, a job, and other special skills or talents. You have your recommendation letters all set, and maybe you’ve even had an interview at the college of your choice.

And then there’s the essay or personal statement. 

So let’s break down why the college application essay is so important.

We all know that gaining entrance into just about any college is getting more and more difficult, as more applicants, many of them academically gifted and highly qualified, are seeking to fill a very limited number of slots. 

The 2009 College Board’s College Admission and Enrollment Statistics found that while grades, secondary school record and SAT scores are the top factors in the college admissions decision, a majority of colleges and universities consider the essay to be important or very important in determining which academically qualified students they’ll choose.

This very important piece of writing can tip the scales in your favor, all other factors being equal between you and other candidates with a similar resume and background.

Think about it. 

By the time you apply to college, your GPA or class rank is mostly set, and it’s difficult to significantly change it. Your SAT score is also pretty much a done deal. And can you really add or change your extracurricular activities enough to make a difference at this point?

Besides, there are hundreds of high school students out there with kick-a** GPAs, awesome SAT scores, and tons of extracurriculars on their resumes.  And they are applying to the same schools you are.

What to do?

This still leaves you with two factors within your control for enhancing your college applications in a way that will set you apart  – your letters of reference and your personal essay.  You can work with your letter writers to get good letters of reference, and they want to help you, but they are going to write what they want to write.  You have no control over what they say and how they say it.

The personal statement or essay, however, is completely within your control.  The essay is your chance to show college admissions officers what is unique, special and wonderful about you; it’s where you can show them the ways in which you are a candidate unlike any other, through a well-chosen topic and a persuasive narrative.

The essay is where you can highlight what sets you apart from the hordes of other applicants, in your own words.  And it’s the one place where you can draw attention to things about yourself not found in your resume and elsewhere in your application packet because it provides information about you that test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities cannot.

It’s where you get to tell a story only you can tell.

When all else is equal between competing applicants with similar grades, SAT scores, and EC’s, a compelling, powerfully written essay can make the difference and set you apart from your peers. 

So give yourself plenty of time to craft your essay, going step-by-step through the writing process — brainstorming and choosing a topic, organizing your information, writing a draft, rewriting; then editing, proofreading, and polishing.

(To grab your FREE guide on how to write a stellar college application essay, please visit my website at http://www.theessaymentor.com/ to download your copy today!)

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Welcome to The Essay Mentor!

Hi, and welcome to The Essay Mentor, where I offer guidance on creating a kick-a** college application essay that will get you in!

So we all know how competitive getting into the school of your choice is.  One of the most daunting and stressful tasks a high school student will face in the college application process is writing the college admissions essay or personal statement.

The challenge for high school seniors is being able to articulate who they are and what makes them unique and different from their friends and peers, and writing persuasively about it. Just how do you get at what makes you special, what defines you, and what sets you apart from hundreds of other qualified candidates in 500 to 750 words or less?

I started this blog to help you with that.

(To grab your FREE guide on how to write a stellar college application essay, please visit my website at http://www.theessaymentor.com/ to download your copy today!)

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