When Writing a College Essay, Document, Don’t Create


Writing a college essay is hard. Very few students go into the writing process “pumped” to sit in front of a computer to tell a story. It’s part laborious, often times frustrating and occasionally embarrassing. The most common thing I hear is “I don’t know what to write!” and then it becomes my job to help the student to brainstorm and believe in the idea that we have thought of together.


Know what’s far easier? Documenting life. Instead of trying to devise some cleverly creative epiphany that they think will change the landscape of college admissions and help them get into the college of their dreams, students should simply share what has happened in their lives or what is happening. And to start, it doesn’t have to be over the top “amazing.”  It will get there (if you work with us!) but the first draft will be rough. And that’s ok!


I’m big on having students write a paragraph and then stepping away from the essay. Take a few hours off or even a day, and repeat. This method lessens the pressure of the writing process and really allows students time and space to properly ponder the next steps. They are not creating on the fly, they’re documenting how they feel and what they believe. They’re able to research a school (Why X School) without staring blankly at a screen.


Documenting is the key to storytelling. College essays are not supposed to be imaginative per se, but rather revealing.