It may sound counterintutitive to write your introduction last, but write your introduction last. This is not a five-paragraph essay and not a class assignment (unless you’re in AP Lang), so the order in which you write is not restricted.
Coming up with a “perfect” hook is much easier if you do it after the other sections. Insisting on writing your hook and introduction first generally will lead to, what I call, Blinking Cursor Syndrome.
You know this by its more commonly used name – Writer’s Block.
Despite seven Common App Essay choices, six Coalition App Essay choices, countless supplements, and various “Why Us?” essays, one key to writing amazing admissions essays is to realize that every prompt, regardless of its wording, is really the same:
Positively Differentiate Yourself.
That is your mission regardless of the wording you’re given.
Another way to look at it is this. Here are the Common App Essay Prompts (with the underlined portion added by me):
I’m a big fan of Common App Prompt #7 and Coalition App Prompt #6. Why? There are enough restrictions and limitations placed on you elsewhere in the application and in the process in general.
With the goal of Postively Differentiate Yourself, take the opportunity to remove the limitations imposed upon you by trying to fit a story or stories into one of the other prompts. The wisdom of this, IMHO, will become clearer after you’ve done the Traits & Qualities exercise.
A common rumor is that these two prompts are “traps” or “lessen the chances of getting admitted.” Categorically untrue.
This step is included in the FREE INTRO COURSE. So you can do this there or here.
Make a list of five (or more) people that you know and who you interact with. (Yes, I just dangled a preposition.) The criterion for adding these names is that each person must have two or more traits or qualities that you respect or admire.
The list must exclude “hard-working” and “driven” (and all their synonyms).
The list cannot include the same trait more than once (including synonyms).
When you finish:
You will have a list of at least 10 unique traits and qualities that you respect or admire that doesn’t include hard-working and/or driven.
This exercise takes about eight or nine minutes. It will make your writing experience less stressful if you do the exercise before reading the next steps.
(If you haven‘t made your list, I suggest you take the FREE INTRO COURSE.)
The list that you (hopefully) made will contain seven or more of your best traits and qualities. As you look at the list, you only need to have demonstrated each trait one or more times to include it in the next steps.
It is not a competition with the person whose name you wrote down. You don’t have to exhibit this trait or these traits 100% of the time. Feel free to add any other traits and qualities you possess that aren’t on the list. It’s okay to be immodest. No one else will see this list.
Now, you get to write…some short stories, some vignettes that highlight the way or ways in which you’ve demonstrated these traits. These are not meant to be written in college admissions essay format. They should be standalone pieces of “literary clay” that you will mold later.
These should be “show, don’t tell” as is the case with most writing. In other words, you wouldn’t write “A time I was generous was…” You’d simply write a story that describes the situation and the action you took (without naming it).
The next step is to review the stories you’ve written in search of a common thread or theme or a natural way to connect some of them. This is one of the areas with which I help my One-on-One Coaching clients. It’s not always obvious to the writer, in this case, you, how to connect them.
But, sometimes, it is. The goal is to combine the short stories in a way that makes the traits and qualities (what I calle ‘takeaways’) impossible for an admissions officer to miss. It is the combination of the stories and the underlying takeaways that will help you positively differentiate yourself from others. This is true whether or not any of the stories are profound or inherently compelling (like you might see in an Essay That Worked example).
At this point, assuming you’ve molded your literary clay, you have the first draft of your “body” paragraphs. Now is where the fun begins. Now, you can play with intros and hooks and conclusions and bookends.
But, make no mistake, there will be several more drafts needed (likely) before you will have the college admissions essay you want.
I encourage you to read the following blog posts to see examples of various drafts of an essay. You may not need as many steps as I show; you may need more steps. It doesn’t matter; it’s not a competition.
One of the things to notice is that I was very willing to discard some parts of what I wrote (despite liking them a great deal).
The goal of the intro course and the blog is to provide free resources to help you navigate the college admissions application process. If you need additional help or want to work with me One-on-One, I do take on a limited number of clients each admissions season.
I’m having such an amazing time at Harvard and my summer abroad program in London. Thank you for helping me find the courage to tell my story. I couldn’t have done it without you.
– Amber S., Houston, TX
Kenneth helped me first with my 1500 - 2000 word biographical statement for Columbia for undergrad and, more recently, with my application to The New School for graduate school. His insight and wit made the process so much easier. I highly recommend. He’s so worth it!!
- Margaret T., New York, NY
Kenneth is the person to consult for college & grad school applications. He helped me find my voice for my statements of purpose. Money well spent as with his coaching, I got accepted to both UPenn and Columbia.
-Arya Z., Virginia
I reached out to Ken for help with my main essay and my supplemental essays. He was absolutely fantastic as a writing coach, and he helped me regain my confidence. I’m going to Cornell.
- C. G., El Paso, TX
With your guidance, my kid has gained so much confidence. She enjoyed every minute of your lessons as well as your marvelous sense of humor! (She’s at JHU, but got into Cornell and UT Austin’s BHP as well!)
- Zemin Z., Plano, TX
I came to Kenneth filled with self-doubt about my abilities as a writer. He filled me with confidence and assured me that he was going to help. And boy, did he help. He helped me write one of the deepest, insightful, and raw essays I've ever come across. I know that the college admissions committee will have all they need to know that I'm the right fit. By the way, he's so funny, so I highly recommend him if you need a laugh along with the best academic help you'll ever receive.
- Shira B., Los Angeles, CA
He gave my daughter confidence in her story & writing ability. She is proud of what she created. He really brought the best out of her and gave her great feedback.
- Shanay W., Bowie, MD
Kenneth is very knowledgeable and is the person to consult for college/grad school applications. He helped me find the highlights to write for my statement of purpose and did his magic with the wording to make it concise yet persuasive. After his revision on my SOP, it becomes very coherent. The sentences are connected like a relay race that passes the baton to each other. I highly recommend him if you have any questions about college/grad school admission.
- Bruce W., Jarbidge, NV
My daughter had already written drafts to 3 of the common app essay prompts, but needed some inspiration choosing the best one and also developing it. Kenneth was caring, engaged, and committed to helping her find her voice and feel proud of her work. He provided excellent feedback and guidance, and even offered a free SAT lesson. She had been working with another tutor much of the summer, but after one lesson with Kenneth she said she learned way more with him! So she will be doing her last few lessons with him before her test date.
- Isabel F., Odessa, FL