Tips for a Compelling Essay

The best essay I ever read from one of my students (who is well into his 30’s by now) was about him riding the commuter bus from our town in New Jersey to New York City. Nothing much happened in the essay; in fact nothing happened at all.

The young man looked out the window, mused about the swamp known as the Meadowlands and watched an old man drop his paper, which made him think about his own mortality. It was a great essay. Here are some tips for you:

1) Keep it authentic
2) Think small (e.g. not about the nature of the universe or evolution or whether or not God exists)
3) Funny can be good. It must be a pleasure for these poor folks who have to read thousands of these essays to get a laugh now and then—as long as it’s one that’s intended.
4) Parents: Do NOT touch your child’s essay, no matter how great the temptation. I repeat: Walk away from the computer.
5) Community service essays are BORING.
6) Tell them something they don’t know about you from your application.
7) Write about something you care about or are passionate about.
8) How about reading some essays while you are at it: Anne Lamott, 9) David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley. Even Mark Twain.
9) Show, show, show
10) Avoid clichés