College Essay Writing Workshop Nyc

Here’s a tip: Choose a topic you really want to write about. If the subject doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the reader. Write about whatever keeps you up at night. That might be cars, or coffee. It might be your favorite book or the Pythagorean theorem. It might be why you don’t believe in evolution or how you think kale must have hired a PR firm to get people to eat it.

A good topic will be complex. In school, you were probably encouraged to write papers that took a side. That’s fine in academic work when you’re being asked to argue in support of a position, but in a personal essay, you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions. In an essay, conflict is good.

For example, “I love my mom. She’s my best friend. We share clothes and watch ‘The Real Housewives’ of three different cities together” does not make for a good essay. “I love my mom even though she makes me clean my room, hates my guinea pig and is crazy about disgusting food like kale” could lead somewhere

While the personal essay has to be personal, a reader can learn a lot about you from whatever you choose to focus on and how you describe it. One of my favorites from when I worked in admissions at Duke University started out, “My car and I are a lot alike.” The writer then described a car that smelled like wet dog and went from 0 to 60 in, well, it never quite got to 60.

Another guy wrote about making kimchi with his mom. They would go into the garage and talk, really talk: “Once my mom said to me in a thick Korean accent, ‘Every time you have sex, I want you to make sure and use a condo.’ I instantly burst into laughter and said, ‘Mom, that could get kind of expensive!’ ” A girl wrote about her feminist mother’s decision to get breast implants.

A car, kimchi, Mom’s upsizing — the writers used these objects as vehicles to get at what they had come to say. They allowed the writer to explore the real subject: This is who I am.

Don’t brag about your achievements. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Failure is essayistic gold. Figure out what you’ve learned. Write about that. Be honest and say the hardest things you can. And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter. Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about.

10 Things Students Should Avoid

REPEATING THE PROMPT Admissions officers know what’s on their applications. Don’t begin, “A time that I failed was when I tried to beat up my little brother and I realized he was bigger than me.” You can start right in: “As I pulled my arm back to throw a punch, it struck me: My brother had gotten big. Bigger than me.”

LEAVE WEBSTER’S OUT OF IT Unless you’re using a word like “prink” (primp) or “demotic” (popular) or “couloir” (deep gorge), you can assume your reader knows the definition of the words you’ve written. You’re better off not starting your essay with “According to Webster’s Dictionary . . . .”

THE EPIGRAPH Many essays start with a quote from another writer. When you have a limited amount of space, you don’t want to give precious real estate to someone else’s words.

YOU ARE THERE! When writing about past events, the present tense doesn’t allow for reflection. All you can do is tell the story. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. Some beginning writers think the present tense makes for more exciting reading. You’ll see this is a fallacy if you pay attention to how many suspenseful novels are written in past tense.

SOUND EFFECTSOuch! Thwack! Whiz! Whooooosh! Pow! Are you thinking of comic books? Certainly, good writing can benefit from a little onomatopoeia. Clunk is a good one. Or fizz. But once you start adding exclamation points, you’re wading into troubled waters. Do not start your essay with a bang!

ACTIVE BODY PARTS One way to make your reader giggle is to give body parts their own agency. When you write a line like “His hands threw up,” the reader might get a visual image of hands barfing. “My eyes fell to the floor.” Ick.

CLICHÉS THINK YOUR THOUGHTS FOR YOU Here’s one: There is nothing new under the sun. We steal phrases and ideas all the time. George Orwell’s advice: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

TO BE OR NOT TO BE Get rid of “to be” verbs. Replace “was” in “The essay was written by a student; it was amazing and delightful” and you’ll get: “The student’s essay amazed and delighted me.” We’ve moved from a static description to a sprightlier one and cut the word count almost in half.

WORD PACKAGES Some phrases — free gift, personal beliefs, final outcome, very unique — come in a package we don’t bother to unpack. They’re redundant.

RULES TO IGNORE In English class, you may have to follow a list of rules your teacher says are necessary for good grammar: Don’t use contractions. No sentence fragments. It’s imperative to always avoid split infinitives. Ending on a preposition is the sort of English up with which teachers will not put. And don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but” or “because.” Pick up a good book. You’ll see that the best authors ignore these fussy, fusty rules.

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College Admissions Essay Coaching

Available in NYC.

Applying for college admission? Want to give yourself a leg up on the competition? Then make sure your application is accompanied by an exceptional personal essay. While grades and test scores are important, the personal essay is a key factor in determining who gets in, and who doesn't. There's no set formula for writing a great essay because the best essays are as unique as the individuals who write them. The essay that will impress the reviewer must be original, focused, and structured. Style counts. Word choice matters. And every comma has to be in the right place.

True Story: Creative Nonfiction for Teens will help you learn much of what you need to write that application essay. But Gotham also offers one-on-one coaching to help you get started and work your way through the process. Our coaches are all professional writers with a wealth of experience in writing college application essays. They'll help you write the essay you want to write—the one that will make the admissions committee sit up and take notice.

Start To Finish: Five-Hour Package

If you aren't sure how to get started on your essay, a Gotham coach can guide you through the entire process, start to finish. The package includes:

Personal Inventory: To help you discover the wealth of possible essay topics, the coach will provide you with a Personal Inventory worksheet. You simply answer the worksheet's interesting questions, which will be used as a spring-board for brainstorming a topic.

Brainstorming: Using your Personal Inventory as a starting point, the coach will help you winnow down the options and figure out the best topic and approach. You'll also learn the basics of good essay writing and techniques for letting your individuality shine. Even if you come in with no idea where to start, you'll walk out with a great topic and an understanding of how to turn it into words.

The Evaluation: Once you have a draft of your essay, your coach spends one hour evaluating it on his or her own, making careful notes and preparing for your consultation.

The Consultation: You bring your laptop, then you and your coach spend two hours improving your essay—content, style, structure, grammar, every aspect—and implementing changes right there. You leave with an essay that's just about ready to put in the mail.

Tuition: $425.

Call 212-974-8377 to register.

Final Pass: Three-Hour Package

Final Pass is the ideal package for those who have their essay already written but want to fine tune it. Final Pass includes:

The Evaluation: Your instructor spends one hour evaluating your essay and making careful notes.

The Consultation: You bring your laptop, then you and your coach spend two hours improving your essay—content, style, structure, grammar, every aspect—and implementing changes right there. You leave with an essay that's just about ready to put in the mail.

Tuition: $300.

Call 212-974-8377 to register.

Important Note:
Gotham essay writing coaches are all professional writers experienced in the field of college application essays. They know how great essays are put together, and they understand the nuanced logic of college admissions boards. However, our coaches do not write essays for anyone, and their instruction is no guarantee of admissions into any college. Gotham coaches teach college-bound students the fundamentals of good essay writing, so that they, in turn, can complete an essay that most accurately reflects their capabilities and uniqueness.

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