Your College Application Essay





No one needs to tell you the importance of the college application essay. Put simply, it will influence the decision between “yes” or “no.”

Facing this task, any high school student might feel apprehensive. And when you consider that the act of writing is challenging under any circumstances, the “personal statement” essay can be downright paralyzing.

How do you even begin?

I can help.

I can’t make it easy. But I can make the process less stressful — a more focused, efficient use of your time.

As your writing coach, I can make your essay assignment less daunting, and the process more enjoyable. Step by step, we will brainstorm possible topics, outline a rough draft, and go through the revision process — probably three drafts and a polish — until you’ve achieved a clear, effective, well-written essay.

College admission officers understand that you can’t be measured solely by the sum of your GPA results and standardized test scores. They already have that data in a tidy manila folder. By reading your application essay, they seek a quick glimpse into the real you. They want to read your story, in your words, to get a sense of the kind of person you are.

As a father and professional writer, it would be my pleasure to work with you as your writing coach. I can’t write your college application essay for you –- it’s your story, your life –- but I can help you zero in on your topic, offers tips for narrative-style writing, edit your essay throughout the revision process, and enable you to create a final, polished product that turns heads and opens doors.

Most of all, I want you to be proud of your final essay, and to feel that it authentically reflects your thoughts, values, and experiences. This is your chance to shine.


8d143900c273040305aea31acc41b448-1JAMES PRELLER lives in Delmar, NY, and is the father of three children (ages 15, 17, and 23). He has worked as a professional writer since 1986, and has published more than 80 books for young people, from picture books to young adult novels. He’s the author of the “Jigsaw Jones” and “Scary Tales” series, as well as Bystander and The Fall; his most recent book is The Courage Test (Macmillan), a 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection. You may email him at Or call, or text 518-428-0590. Fees are based on an hourly rate. A general estimate would be $200 from start to finish.








The techniques and strategies

for writing a strong college admissions essay

share traits that are characteristic

of good writing in general.


1. Try to BEGIN WITH A MINI-STORY, select a specific moment in your life;

2. USE CLEAR, direct, natural language;


3. BE SPECIFIC, use concrete details;

4. DON’T TRY TOO HARD TO IMPRESS; don’t list your accomplishments; know that your flaws and failures will add likeability to your story;

5. AVOID EXCESSIVE ADVERBS and adjectives, don’t over-write;

6. WHEN DRAFTING, don’t worry about length, just try to get ideas down on the page; you can always cut later (length should never exceed 650 words);

7. YES! INCLUDE DIALOGUE if appropriate — quotes enhance readability and help bring stories and characters to life;

8. HUMOR IS GREAT, but not necessary, don’t force it;

9. WRITE in the first person;

10. Stick with the PAST TENSE;

11. OPEN UP, express your inner thoughts and feelings;

12. At the conclusion, CLOSE THE CIRCLE: tell the reader what you’ve learned, i.e., the reason for sharing your story in the first place;

13. IMAGINE A READER after she finished your essay: What did she learn about you? Does she like you?

14. And remember, THERE ARE NO IRON-CLAD RULES for good writing -– but there are many useful guidelines. Break them at your own risk.




There’s no single technique for writing a high-quality college application essay. It’s important to stay true to yourself, and to say what you want to say (and how you want to say it). However, I strongly encourage writers to consider a story-driven, narrative approach. This is a proven strategy that creates immediate interest and drama. The key is to view your essay as a mini-story. Begin by describing a specific memory from your life, employing the techniques found in novels. Place the reader in the middle of that moment. Set the scene by using the 4 W’s: who, what, where, and when (we’ll save the 5th W, why, for the end of the essay). Any good story relies on conflict, or a problem to overcome. Your story will SHOW how you encountered that problem — an accident, a challenge, a failure, a crisis, an obstacle, a major life change — and then TELL how you handled it. Try to stay conscious of the personal trait you are striving to highlight: your determination, resourcefulness, leadership, courage, growth, idealism, perfectionism, confidence, compassion, etc. This quality will tie into how you handled the problem, and possibly even what you hope to study in college, i.e., engineering, medicine, environmental studies. At the conclusion of your essay, close the circle. Tell the reader what you’ve learned from the experience — your reason for sharing the story in the first place.





17 TERRIFIC QUOTES FROM THE BOOK, On Writing the College Application Essay, by Harry Bauld


“The essay, unlike other parts of your application, is in your complete control and an opportunity to show admissions officers who you are.”


“[Your Essay is] unlike anything you’ve ever done and for an audience that you can’t (and may never) see.”


”Your first job –- not to put the admissions officer to sleep with your essay.”

“There are no good or bad topics, just good or bad essays.”



“Don’t focus on what are ‘they’ looking for? Instead focus on – what do you have to say? That’s what they want to hear.”


“Write something only you can write. Your essay should have a style as distinctive as your speaking voice. The problem with most essays is that they could have been written by anyone.”


“A college essay is an informal, or familiar piece. Don’t think of the college essay as school-related writing. It’s not a history or English paper, loosen up. Write in a natural tone and style –- a kind of inspired conversation.”


“Use stories and pieces of stories (anecdotes) to bring your work to life. An incident, a bit of conversation, a few vivid characters can make the difference between a lifeless piece and one that sings.”


“Your memories are the foundation of what only you can write. Memories are your story. Think of early childhood memories and ask: how does this memory reflect who I am now?”


“The shape of an essay emerges through your writing, often after the first draft.”


“Don’t use ‘in conclusion’ or ‘finally’ or ‘in summation.’”


“Beginning and ending speak to each other.”


“What kind of tone should you use in your college essay? Whatever suits you. The mood grows out of the subject and the writer’s authentic feeling about it. Use a natural voice.”


“Inflated language does not make you smarter, it makes you sound pretentious.”


“Good writing knows the names of things.”


“Less is more, simplify your sentences.”


“Admissions people often disagree in their evaluation of essays. Different readers, even in the same admissions office, look for different things. How can you please them? You can’t. Say what you have to say.”


CONTACT ME at Fees are based on an hourly rate. A general estimate would be $200-$250 from start to finish.

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