Cover: College Admission Essays For Dummies, 2nd Edition by Jessica Brenner and Geraldine Woods

Title Page

College Admission Essays For Dummies®

To view this book's Cheat Sheet, simply go to and search for “College Admission Essays For Dummies Cheat Sheet” in the Search box.


Getting into college can be extremely difficult. More students are applying to four-year universities than ever before, tuition is higher than ever, and the number of college campuses has stayed almost exactly the same. There are no guarantees when it comes to college applications.

And yet one aspect of college admissions has never been more important: college essays. The impression you make and the stories you share can tip the scales in your favor and distinguish you from the thousands of other applicants with the exact same GPA and test scores. Whether you’ve been an aspiring storyteller since you first picked up a pen or the thought of writing anything longer than a text message makes you want to hide under the covers, you are capable of crafting memorable college essays. This book can explain how to write creatively, authentically, and well — giving you the best possible chance at admissions. Just as important, a well-paced writing process can help you discover valuable insights about yourself (and it’s ideal that you know yourself well before going off to college) and even be enjoyable — much more so than working yourself into a frenzy days before your deadlines.

This second edition of College Admission Essays For Dummies gives you a road map around what I call essay sand traps (those unsubstantiated claims, vagueness, and cliched topics, among other things) that can sabotage your application, as well as strategies used by the most successful applicants. This book helps you decide what to write and then guides you through the process of creating essays that present your best self to the admissions committee. Because many scholarships require personal statements, this book may also pay off in cold, hard cash. Moreover, you’ll find this new edition useful even after you plunk down your last tuition payment. Chances are a few employment-related letters and essays are in your future, especially if you’re applying for internships or jobs on the professional level.

About This Book

If you’re applying for admission or hoping that your eloquent essays will translate into scholarship money, you probably already have your hands full: You’re asking for letters of recommendation, tracking down your Social Security Number, and assembling that resume you’ve been tinkering with for months. You don’t need another chore, but you do need help. Never fear. This book demystifies the process of writing an application essay — from topic search through final draft, without wasting your time. Of course, I like to imagine you glued to these pages, devouring every syllable, but I’m a realist.

You can find information on the following topics (and so much more):

  • A questionnaire — a personal inventory — that helps you discover the best topics for your essays
  • Proven techniques for jump-starting your creative process
  • Techniques to gather ideas, focus on a topic, and choose the best structure for your essay and how you can seek help without violating any university, school, parental, or personal code of honesty
  • Tactics to demystify the rough draft, including why you should “show” not “tell” your story and the lowdown on topic sentences, use of detail, and strong introductions and conclusions
  • Tips on overcoming writer’s block
  • Ways to put the finishing touches on a final draft
  • Methods to finalizing your essays and knowing when you’re done writing (for some, the tinkering and tweaking stage can go on forever!)
  • Pointers on grammar and spelling without all those horrible terms that English teachers love so much and help with choosing the best tone, creating transitions, and avoiding wordiness and repetition
  • Examples of real admission essays from students who were very happy when the colleges of their choice mailed out decision letters
  • Guidance on how to address the most familiar types of supplemental essays (which are essays used to supplement your personal statement) and some uncommon question types, too

Foolish Assumptions

Although you know what “they” say about assumptions, here are a few assumptions I make about you:

  • You want to choose — and be chosen for — the best possible university, and you understand that essay writing is a major component in ensuring your success.
  • You may be just a little insecure about writing, maybe not with regards to the usual English-report sort of paper, but certainly the “let-me-tell-you-about-myself” type of essay. And who isn’t insecure about such a task? After all, summing up a life experience, at the age of 17 or the age of 71, is daunting.
  • You’re aware of the wealth of information available to you — with regards to deadlines, application guidance, and major do’s and don’ts of essay writing — but that the information you read or hear is often conflicting and confusing. Sifting through it and creating your own manageable plan might feel just a bit out of reach.

Everything in College Admission Essays For Dummies, 2nd Edition, is intended to calm your anxieties, improve your writing skills, and help you complete your application essays on time and on target.

Icons Used in This Book

Throughout the book are little signs located in the margins to guide you toward important information. Here’s what each sign means:

Tip The material accompanying this icon is more valuable than a message from a jockey about the favorite’s chances to win the sixth race. The Tip icon alerts you to shortcuts, ways to improve writing style, and other helpful hints for writing a successful college admission essay.

Remember This icon contains helpful content — you know, stuff worth remembering! Think of this icon as a speedbump asking you to slow down for a moment and take note of guidance.

Warning The Warning icon is like the sturdy fence at the edge of a cliff. This icon tells you how to sidestep the most common errors of admission essays and prevent some seriously nasty falls.

Beyond This Book

This book is chock-full of examples, tips and tricks, and other pieces of helpful advice so you can write a college admission essay that can wow the admissions team and help you get into your dream school. If you want some additional tidbits of wisdom, check out the book’s Cheat Sheet at Just search for “College Admission Essay Cheat Sheet.”

Where to Go from Here

Head to the Table of Contents and index to see what’s where. Then turn to the chapters that deal with the part of the process currently tying your stomach into a knot. After you’ve grasped what you need to do, plop yourself in front of the computer and get to work. Keep a copy of the book nearby, so the next time you’re stuck, you can turn to the respective chapter in this book for more assistance.

For instance, if you’ve already finalized your college list, you may want to start by making a list of essay questions and deadlines. You may also consider beginning where most students do: by exploring the prompts and various approaches to the Common Application personal statement (a more thorough explanation of why this comes first is in Chapter 1). As you begin to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, dip into the different chapters that address the parts of the writing process most likely to be hard for you. And take heart: You will write your college essays and you will survive the application era of your life.

My personal goal for this book is that any student coming out of any high school will be able to read it and get the information needed and deserved — for the price of a paperback or ebook. I want to put maximum control and empowerment in your hands. I hope the information in the coming chapters serves as a guide, inspires your curiosity, generates ideas, and overall makes you feel prepared as you tackle this important process in the manner that is right for you.

Part 1

Putting Yourself on Paper


Understand the role of college essays in your college application process.

Create a timeline and plan based on the number of essays required by the colleges to which you’re applying and the deadlines you hope to meet.

Consider various approaches to the Common Application writing prompts (and other prompts you’re likely to encounter).

Reflect on your experiences and relationships to begin brainstorming for your college essays.

Gain an understanding of the genre and process of college essay writing.

Master the central do’s and don’ts you should be aware of before you begin writing.