College essay tips, from a Morris Plains pro

Graphic: WikiVisual.


By Alisha Davlin

It’s college application season and deadlines are right around the corner.

As a former outside undergraduate reader, a writer, and a teacher, I’ve read hundreds of essays and know what it takes to construct a memorable college essay that stands out from the pile.

Below are some tips to help you with your final draft as we round the bend to the finish line.

You are the Ultimate Protagonist

(Four Tips for Writing the College Admissions Essay)

1. Stand Out

I straightened my curls everyday in high school adhering to the creed of fitting in. But for the college application essay, you must focus on what makes you different.

Alisha Davlin
Alisha Davlin

Learn to examine yourself as the main character, a worthy protagonist.

If I asked my 3-year old to tell me a story about herself, she would start: “I’m the queen,” then march around with her nose in the air. Kids have no problem talking about themselves.

The indoctrination begins with the five-paragraph analytical essay in middle school. We don’t even let you use “I” in your analytical essays. Take back the narrative. Put the “I” back in your story. Stop flat-ironing your hair.

2. The Shred Test

Writers tend to be an egotistical, paranoid lot, known to shred drafts after printing instead of recycling. You should love your essay so much you fear someone might inadvertently copy your brilliance.

Words are your currency. If you would show just anyone your essay, you might not have gone deep enough, opened up, got vulnerable. When we skim the surface we don’t take a risk and the stakes stay low.

That said, not every essay delves into the maudlin. Sometimes you write a light-hearted jaunt of an essay. But whether deep and angsty or light and frisky, remember the shredder test—would you leave a copy of this lying around the recycle bin, or slide it into the shredder just to be sure….

3. The Middle Way

You should not be mortified to show this essay to your family. Embrace Buddhism’s Middle Way. Don’t use this to explore your depressive episodes of listening to Morrissey and writing poetry by candlelight wearing a velvet tunic and matching choker. You will be away from home and do not want to appear to be a mental health risk.

4. Final Draft

It takes typically five drafts to get this thing done. Work hard, you can do it in a week. The more you draft, the stronger your essay will be.

Use this as an exploration into you, to discover what makes you memorable, what’s the narrative that most grabs—the one that keeps haunting you.

Take a breath and dive in. Deep. Then make sure that the “I” you wrote about is likable, relatable, and someone you would want to share a dorm with. Because— you know—those rooms are small.

Alisha Davlin is the founder of Davlin Consulting of Morris Plains.

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