Thanks for coming to the college essay workshop
Here’s how you can get started writing yours
These activities are straight out of EssayQuest, the online program that will help you write your best college essay, explore who you are, and become a better writer — from Essay Mentors, the experts in helping kids write great college essays.
If you’re not sure you’re ready to dive into the full program, this is a great way to get started.
If you couldn’t make it to the webinar, start with College Essays 101 and the Write Like a Pro process.
–May Sarton, acclaimed poet, novelist, and memoirist
Here’s how we suggest you use these activities
Every time you come to this site, take a look at the Write Like a Pro™ process diagram and read the three things you need to know to have a strong foundation.
Read one or two sample essays you haven’t read yet (or reread one if you’ve already read them all).
Pick up on the activity where you left off. There’s a ‘next page’ button at the bottom of each activity for when you’re ready to move on.
In the workshop, we read three versions of Spencer’s essay, talked about the three things professional writers know before they get started, and the Write Like a Pro™ process.
Know your audience
A friendly college admissions officer in the middle of reading 1.3 million words of college essays.
Know your intention
Write an engaging, authentic short story that shows who you are.
Know your role
Take the perspective of sitting around the campfire telling your friends your story.
Take the VIA Personal Strengths survey
Wonder why our sample essays are so good? Part of the magic is this survey. When your essay shows at least five or your top ten strengths, you know you’re coming through. Not many college essays do this.
The survey is free and takes 15–20 minutes.
- Visit VIA and register a new account.
- Take the VIA Strength Assessment for Youth.
- Be sure you click through all of the buttons until you see your strengths.
- Read over your strengths. Are the ones on top more your style? Anything seem off or wrong? You can click on the name of each strength to learn more about it.
There are great resources on the VIA site. Take some time to explore them.
Read some sample essays
There are two ways to become a better writer: write a lot and read a lot.
As you read essays, keep these questions in the back of your mind:
- Has an admissions officer read this 100 times? Will they be bored?
- Is it an engaging, authentic short story that shows who the student it?
- Is it the perspective of someone just telling their story (as opposed to trying to sell me on something, prove a point, etc.)?
Mainly, just enjoy them!
Review the three versions of Spencer’s essay
These are the essays we read in the webinar, along with the questions and take-aways.
At the bottom of each page click the next step button.
Learn more about the Write Like a Pro process
This is the process we’ll guide you through in EssayQuest.
If you want to write a great college essay you’ve got to start with great ideas. Lots of them. In this phase, you’ll think of lots of ideas, discover your stories, and write the raw material that will ultimately turn into a great college essay.
There are two main activities in the Thinker phase:
- Find some Story Starters
- Write a TON of raw content
You’ll be writing a lot in this phase – but doing it quickly. Most students end up with 4000–8000 words of raw content. You’ll write that in short bursts of about twelve minutes each.
Unless the deadline is coming up, spread this over 2–4 weeks; this will give your brain time to ponder and bubble over ideas in the background.
Overall, you’ll spend about four hours in the Thinker phase.
Do every one of these activities. They’ve been tested over and again, and will give you the raw content you need to write your best college essay.