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How to Overcome Writer's Block and Ace Your College Essays

October 06, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Guide, How To, Brainstorming, Personal Statement


What is the scariest part of writing an essay from scratch?

Take it from the King of Horror himself, Stephen King:

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.

After that, things can only get better.”

Brainstorm

The first draft of your college essay will be unspectacular - and unspectacular is perfect!

If, at first, no particular topic jumps out as the perfect essay topic, don’t worry. Most people don’t get so lucky!

Plus, some of your best potential subjects might be the ones that won’t readily come to mind. In my experience, the best way to unearth some old memories or kickstart your creativity is through a guided brainstorm.

If you're looking for a place to begin, The New York Times has a great list of questions to help you get started on the right path!

Put Words on the Page

After you get a few ideas down, here's the good news: you’ve already done the hardest part of your essay!

When it comes to college application essays, the idea is paramount.

If you enter the writing process with a strong idea, your exact words and phrasing can be sculpted and revised until they accurately reflect the quality of the idea.

Now you just need to get the words down - they don’t need to be pristine, in fact, they don’t even need to necessarily be good.

The idea is that as you get words on paper, as you edit, rework, and rearrange, you will naturally hone in on the “right words.”

Odds are, your first draft will come out better than you anticipate. However, there’s no way of knowing that until you take that leap of faith and start writing. For guidance on how to start specific essays and specific prompts, one-on-one guidance from an experienced mentor can be an incredibly effective form of assistance.

As for a general approach to starting your essays, you need to be able to trust yourself and the writing process .

You’ve formulated the idea, so you know that you have the right words somewhere. Now, you need to commit yourself to trial and error in order to tease the proper verbiage out.

Be Brave

Remember that traditional isn’t better when it comes to your college essays.

Chances are, when you apply to college you'll have little to no previous experience writing college admissions essays. Most of your formal essay writing experience will have come from English class.

This time, though, you’re not trying to decode Fitzgerald’s prose or explore the themes of 1984. The goal of a Personal Statement or supplemental essay is to give admissions officers a sense of what makes you you .

You want your personality to shine through! And it doesn’t hurt if it’s an entertaining read - these officers are reading hundreds of essays every week.

Don’t be afraid to add some humor , experiment with less formal language, or open with a unique introduction .

Don’t be afraid to pick a topic that’s out-of-the-box , or to pick a topic that’s seemingly “boring” and explore it through an engaging or unexpected lens.

If you need proof that ~almost~ anything goes as an essay topic, check out this excellent essay on Costco that got its author into 5 Ivy League schools and Stanford.

Remain Focused

One final note: With every ounce of strength in your body, force yourself to avoid procrastination.

Writing an essay is hard enough on its own. The last thing you need is another excuse not to write.

As novelist Peter De Vries once wrote,

"I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock."

The writing process is long and tedious, and spontaneous bouts of motivation can be few and far between. Sometimes you just need to tell yourself to open up the computer and type!

It’s natural to put pressure on yourself to produce a perfect first draft.

As a result, though, you’ll get caught in the minutiae, constantly self-editing and deleting.

Don’t fall into this trap! It’s okay for your first draft to be too long, too short, too ridiculous. What’s more important is to get your ideas down and give yourself material to work with. It won’t all be usable, but chances are, some of it will stick.

A great (and somewhat scary!) way to write a first draft quickly and without being able to self-edit is this writing tool . It will prompt you to write for a given amount of time and erase your work if you stop writing.

Summary

To summarize a few of the key takeaways from this post:

  1. Don’t be afraid of a bad first draft

  2. Trust the writing process

  3. Take advantage of an experienced mentor

  4. Make the time to sit down and write

Good luck!

Bad Common App Personal Statement Topics

October 06, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Topics, Personal Statement, Brainstorming, Red Flags, Common App


What is the most widely utilized, but often poorly-executed, Common App essay topic?

Believe it or not, it's you.

You are probably a bad Common App Essay topic.

Counterintuitive, right?

Writing an autobiography is one of the most common mistakes applicants make when brainstorming essay topics.

Truth be told, it’s difficult to make an absolute statement on what a good or bad essay topic is.

More often than not, it's the execution of an essay topic, as opposed to the topic itself, that will determine whether or not you have a strong essay.

That being said, there are some essay topics which are typically more DIFFICULT to turn into a good, unique, and personally insightful essay. They are as follows:

  1. Essays about a competition or performance
  2. Essays about charities or service initiatives
  3. Essays about music or art
  4. Essays that are simply infeasible from an execution standpoint

Now, why do these topics typically produce subpar essays?

Regarding the first three topics form the list above, these essays usually fail to show authenticity and originality, and are susceptible to tones of arrogance and self-praise.

These essay topics are typically overused and fail to showcase yourself in a way that is unique.

Moreover, these topics will often tempt you to talk exclusively about yourself and your accomplishments.

Finally, sometimes the topic is too big to effectively convert into a 650-word essay.

Even topics that are great in theory can be ruined by attempts to compress them into an essay as short as the Common App essay.

So what generally makes for a good essay topic?

Here’s a big one: telling a story through the len of a relationship.

Writing about a relationship - between yourself and another person, place, or thing that is personally meaningful - is an effective way to circumvent the pitfalls of the aforementioned bad topics.

It will allow you to avoid seeming conceited, show care, humility, and personal development, and showcase yourself without coming off as self-centered.

Relationships offer a great opportunity to demonstrate personally insightful material.

Throughout your Common App, there are more than enough opportunities to showcase your accolades and expertise.

The Common App essay is a unique opportunity to show your character - how you grow, your unique way of moving through the world, how you interpret experiences, your capacity for empathy, humility, and vulnerability.

Put simply, a bad essay topic makes it more difficult to accomplish those things. While every topic can become a great essay, great topics make it easier to accomplish that goal.

How to Write the "Tell Me About Yourself" Essay

October 03, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Advice, Personal Statement


You've probably seen some form of this prompt a million times:

"Tell us about yourself. What makes you you?

Be careful — this prompt is a trap!

You should very rarely be telling a college how great you are. Instead, do what’s worked for countless successful applicants and show them!

By the time an admissions reader has reached your personal essay, they’ve read about all of your activities and accolades, skills and strengths.

The “tell me about yourself” essay is the opportunity to put the resume away and begin revealing more personally insightful information.

Many applicants can fill-in correct bubbles on a Scantron sheet just like you, many applicants can sit down at a piano and play Debussy’s Clair de Lune just like you, and many applicants can recount their high school service projects just like you.

But these other applicants don’t handle adversity just like you.

They don’t have a special relationship to their father just like you.

They don’t interpret moments of formative introspection and personal development just like you...

These types of experiences and, especially, relationships, are fantastic insights into your character, your identity, and the exact sort of personality-sculpting topics which university admissions officers are dying to know about.

Here’s a personal example of my own successful application to Harvard: I have a tremendously special relationship with my brother.

Although we grew up sleeping just three feet away every night, eating breakfast at the same kitchen counter, the unpredictable and often regrettable events of life have granted each of us vastly different arrays of opportunities, capacities, and limitations.

My closeness with him has guided me to reshape how I define and am aware of my privilege, and he inspires me to approach every day with an enhanced sense of gratitude and a desire to become a champion for the improvement and support of special education programs.

The key in an essay such as this one was to show rather than tell about this relationship through anecdotes and concrete instances that shaped how I view the world.

In my essay, I focused on demonstrating a capacity for introspection, gratitude, empathy, and selflessness, and the vehicle by which I did that was through this personal subject and the lens of my brother and my relationship.

I emphasized how I was striving towards a better version of myself rather than arrogantly stating that I was always that better self.

I demonstrated vulnerability that neared on self-deprecation in revealing the often difficult realization that I benefited from a host of great privileges that I have not outright earned but rather have been arbitrarily granted.

These themes of humility, gratitude, vulnerability, personal progress are essential for a strong personal essay.

These ideals are often best achieved, almost counterintuitively, by writing about someone else.

The personal essay should transcend arrogance without arriving at self-pity, and writing about a significant relationship allows you to walk that line tactfully.

Here’s a condensed but generally effective set of guiding questions:

  1. What is an experience or relationship that significantly changed the course of your personal development?

  2. What path were you on before?

  3. What path have you made efforts to follow now?

Help on Writing the COVID-19 Common App Essay Question

July 18, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | COVID, Common App, Essays, Personal Statement


The questions that are likely on every applicant's mind this year are:

What will college admissions officers do in 2020 when everyone's application essays are about COVID-19?

How do I address COVID in my Common App essays?

And how do I stand out from the crowd?

Thankfully, the company behind the Common Application has anticipated these concerns by adding an optional, dedicated prompt for students to address the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. The prompt has a maximum length of 250 words.

By including this new prompt, the Common App is strongly suggesting that your primary Personal Statement essay not focus on the pandemic.

Instead, students should:

  1. Proceed normally on their Personal Statements as they would in non-pandemic application years, writing a Personal Statement that sheds light on the qualitative aspects of themselves and their candidacy that aren't conveyed elsewhere in their applications.

  2. Take advantage of this extra essay prompt to provide information on how COVID has affected them and their families.

What is the COVID Essay?

As stated in a blog post from the Common App in May of 2020:

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives and postsecondary plans for many students. We want to reduce anxiety for applicants affected by these events and provide them with a way to share their experience with colleges and universities.

Next year, on the 2020-2021 application, Common App will provide students who need it with a dedicated space to elaborate on the impact of the pandemic, both personally and academically. We want to provide colleges with the information they need, with the goal of having students answer COVID-19 questions only once while using the rest of the application as they would have before to share their interests and perspectives beyond COVID-19.

Below is the question applicants will see:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N

Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

The question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application. The response length will be limited to 250 words .

What’s more, the Common App has added an additional question to the school counselor section of the Common App, providing your counselor with the opportunity to elaborate on changes to grading scales, graduation requirements, course offerings, or other circumstances that have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

You should make sure that your counselor is aware of this question and uses the opportunity to provide relevant academic details for your candidacy.

How to Write the COVID Essay

The next question is how to answer the COVID-19 prompt .

The biggest piece of advice I have for applicants is avoid trying to do too much on this essay.

It may be tempting to simply list everything that has happened to you over the past 6 months.

But within a 250-word allowance, it will be impossible to tell all of those stories at once in the detail needed to leave an impression on an admissions reader who will be reading hundreds of the same exact essay.

Select two or three of the most concrete impacts that the pandemic has had on your life.

Whether a parent lost a job and you were forced to pick up work, you faced the death of a close friend or loved one, or you started a new hobby during your quarantine, your application reader wants to get a sense of how you deal with an adversity that has affected everyone to varying degrees, and the depth of that shared adversity in your individual case.

Stylistically, this essay can be written as a straightforward list of events with the usual beginning, middle, and end structure:

  • Beginning: How were you/your community impacted?

  • Middle: How did it challenge you, and what did you do to push through that adversity?

  • End: What did you learn from this experience, or will continue to work on?

Alternatively, your essay could take a more creative/story-telling approach and focus on the show, don’t tell principle, most commonly used in the larger 650-word Personal Statement essay.

In this approach, the focus might be centered on a specific anecdote of how you/your community were impacted by the virus. You could tell a short story about this one instance, and how it changed your relationship with a particular person or how you view yourself in the world.

While this may be hard for some students to accomplish successfully within 250 words, it may be more appealing to read for an overworked admissions officer who has seen more essays of the aforementioned "list" variety than the latter "story-telling" approach.