Q & A with The College Essay Guy

Ethan Sawyer (@CollegeEssayGuy) was the guest on #CampusChat, Wednesday, June 24, 2015 and shared his:

college essayParent’s Guide to the College Essay

Ethan’s Q&A with us follows. For a complete transcript, click on: #CampusChat 6/24 Parent’s Guide to the College Essay.

Q1 Why do colleges put so much emphasis on the essay part of the application? #CampusChat

A1 The essay breathes life & color into the application and gives the numbers context. It’s also the last thing you control. #CampusChat

A1 On the one hand, the essay alone won’t get you into Harvard. (You need amazing grades and test scores to have a shot.)… #CampusChat

A1 …But if a college is deciding between two students w/similar grades and test scores, the essays can make the difference. #CampusChat


Q2 Why do students dread the college essay? #CampusChat

A2 I think students have a lot of misconceptions about the essay—that it’s like an AP Lang paper, for example. But it’s not! #CampusChat

A2 In my experience, the tone of a college essay is more like a conversation with a smart friend. #CampusChat

A2 But, honestly, most of my students don’t dread the college essay—they actually enjoy the process and learn a lot! #CampusChat


Q3 When should students start thinking about the college essay? #CampusChat

A3 Now! My favorite brainstorming question is: What’s your deepest story? #CampusChat

A3 Here’s my favorite brainstorm exercise,The Objects Exercise, to help discover that story: http://bit.ly/1oysQC6  #CampusChat

A3 My second favorite brainstorm exercise is the The Values Exercise, which helps uncover the “so what”: http://bit.ly/U5BONC #CampusChat


Q4 Is there a certain way students should structure their college essay? #CampusChat

A4 One option is the Narrative Structure, which is to tell the story like a movie. http://bit.ly/1pXJCzI #CampusChat

A4 Another option is the Montage structure, which is to connect events & qualities using a common theme, or focusing lens. http://bit.ly/1vXzLYd #CampusChat

A4 Some essays go deep (life-changing moment), some essays wide (lots of variety & moments). A great essay does both. #CampusChat


Q5 What tips do you have for revising and editing the college essay? #CampusChat

A5 Five steps to revising: #1. Put the first sentence of each paragraph in bold. #2. Read the bold sentences aloud. #CampusChat

A5 Revising Step #3. Write a new outline in which all the lines flow together. #4 Rewrite the paragraphs to match. #CampusChat

A5 Revising Step #5. Go for a walk, then come back and read the new draft aloud. Repeat. http://bit.ly/1vXzLYd #CampusChat

A5 Three more revision tips: 1. Be patient. 2. Ask for help. 3. Keep writing. You’ll get there. #CampusChat


Q6 What tactics do you use when helping students with essays? #CampusChat

A6 I begin with Myers-Briggs personality typing to find out how a student processes information and directs his/her energy. #CampusChat

A6 I then teach the basics of screenwriting structure: http://www.collegeessayguy.com/webinar-july-2015 #CampusChat

A6 And throughout the process I do a whole lot of listening. 🙂 (Without a doubt the most important part.) #CampusChat


Q7 What role should parents take in the college essay process? #CampusChat

A7 Ooh: I’ve got a whole page for that! http://www.collegeessayguy.com/parents  #CampusChat

A7 Here are 8 ways parents can support students through the college process: http://tinyurl.com/pda98ys #CampusChat

A7 Here are 6 Six Qualities of a Successful College Parent: http://tinyurl.com/omovweb #CampusChat


Q8 What topics would you tell students to avoid when writing the essay? #CampusChat

A8 Honestly, no essay topic is off-limits. Every story is potentially cliche, or potentially genius. It all depends on how it’s told. #CampusChat

A8 It’s interesting, though: I don’t find that students who go through my process write cliche essays. #truestory #CampusChat

A8 The “mission trip” and sports are common topics, but here’s how to deal with those: http://tinyurl.com/pmqbnul #CampusChat

A8 Even religion can be an okay topic, as long as the student focuses on the values s/he has gained. #CampusChat


Q9 What makes a great college essay? #CampusChat 

A9 Quality #1: The story is unusual in either content, structure or both. #CampusChat

A9 #2. The essay needs a “wow” moment. #3. The ending should be both surprising and inevitable.#CampusChat

A9 #4. The ending makes the reader do a little bit of work. #CampusChat

A9 Note that these aren’t my tips for ALL essays, just common qualities I’ve seen in amazing essays. #CampusChat

A9 Here are Four Qualities of an Amazing College Essay: http://tinyurl.com/ozano3o #CampusChat


Q10 What would be your best advice for students and parents about the essay?#CampusChat

A10 The most important question to answer in the essay is “so what.” And not just 1-2 times, but 6-7 times. #CampusChat

A10 Ask yourself at the end of the essay, “Did I clearly demonstrate 6-9 values?” If only 1-2 are clear, keep going. #CampusChat

A10 Don’t wait; start now. If interested, my pay-what-you-can webinar series runs July 13-17: http://tinyurl.com/pjgeq7j #CampusChat

Click here to inquire about becoming a guest on #CampusChat

Author: Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer advises parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation at ParentsCountdowntoCollegeCoach.com. She is excited to share her knowledge with the readers of Smart College Visit.

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