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Pizza, community service, grandmothers, barnacles…you name it, and admissions officers have probably read an essay about it. And given that thousands of students are admitted to colleges each year, I hope we can all agree there is no one “best” topic on which to write your Common App essay. What makes a college essay strong isn’t necessary its theme, but the personal and reflective story that emerges from that theme. College admissions officers use your personal statement to get to know you as an individual beyond your transcript and test scores, and the essay can be a powerful factor in determining those students who are admitted and those who are not.
The Wynetta A. Frazier Sister-to-Sister Scholarship was created to provide financial assistance to mature African American women in their pursuit of post-secondary education. An applicant must be a returning student, whose education was interrupted by family responsibilities or other personal demands and is now ready to complete college or one who is entering college for the first time because of [...] More
The application essay is not a résumé, nor is it an epic. And by “not an epic,” I mean both  “not fiction” and “not a grand adventure story about an extraordinary protagonist.” Some students might feel pressured to invent tragic past experiences or monumental achievements to heighten the emotional appeal of their essays, but admission officers can detect bovine feces. They also don’t expect you to have survived trauma or carried out heroic feats by your senior year in high school. So always represent yourself in the best way possible, but make sure you keep that depiction truthful.  

One of our consultants detailed how growing up as an American in Germany led to feelings of displacement. Moving to America in high school only exacerbated her feelings of rootlessness. Her transcultural experiences, however, allowed her to relate to other “New Americans,” particularly refugees. Helping a young refugee girl settle into the US eventually helped the writer find home in America as well:


There is such thing as having too many readers, so we recommend asking no more than 1-3 people to weigh in: an editor/counselor/teacher/consultant should help you with the bulk of your essay, while a friend or parent can listen to you read it aloud at some point, or can read it without the ren pen lifted—meaning, they’re there to make sure you sound like you, rather than intervening and writing it for you, or writing over you. Parents who get too handsy with their kids’ essays can do their children a real disservice; it’s clear when someone who isn’t 18 was serving as the guiding force in the essay-writing process.

The essay is not so hard once you start putting ideas down. It lets you express things that don’t appear elsewhere on your application. We hope that you’ll plunge into it, thoughtfully develop your ideas, be honest, and let us hear your voice. Tell us who you are by writing about topics or in a style that reveals your personality, character, or sense of the world.
A sneaky thing can happen as you set about writing your essay: you may find yourself guessing what a college admissions committee is looking for and writing to meet that made up criteria rather than standing firm in who you are and sharing your truest self. While you want to share your thoughts in the best possible light (edit please!), avoid the temptation minimize the things that make you who you are. Show your depth. Be honest about what matters to you. Be thoughtful about the experiences you've had that have shaped who you've become. Be your brilliant self. And trust that your perfect-fit college will see you for who truly you are and say "Yes! This is exactly who we've been looking for.”
For my next article for the class, I wrote about the practice of my own high school suspending students, sometimes indefinitely, for seemingly minor offenses such as tardiness and smoking. I found that the number of suspensions had increased by 200% at my school in just three years, and also discovered that students who are suspended after only one offense often drop out and some later end up in prison. The article caused quite a stir. The administration of my school dismissed it, but it caught the attention of my local newspaper. A local journalist worked with me to publish an updated and more thoroughly researched version of my article in the local newspaper. The article forced the school board to revisit their “zero tolerance” policy as well as reinstate some indefinitely suspended students. I won no favors with the administration and it was a difficult time for me, but it was also thrilling to see how one article can have such a direct effect on people’s lives. It reaffirmed my commitment to a career in journalism.

A way to do this is to do your research. Learn about the school, their student climate, sports teams, values, awards and recognitions. You can always start with their social media accounts, Facebook, Twitter, etc. With that information, the paper could be relevant to the school’s mission and values. So yes, you’ll have to write a different admission essay for every school you apply to.
I was taking a composition class, and we were learning how to write persuasive essays. Up until that point, I had had average grades, but I was always a good writer and my teacher immediately recognized this. The first paper I wrote for the class was about my experience going to an Indian reservation located near my uncle's ranch in southwest Colorado. I wrote of the severe poverty experienced by the people on the reservation, and the lack of access to voting booths during the most recent election. After reading this short story, my teacher approached me and asked about my future plans. No one had ever asked me this, and I wasn't sure how to answer. I said I liked writing and I liked thinking about people who are different from myself. She gave me a book and told me that if I had time to read it, she thought it would be something I would enjoy. I was actually quite surprised that a high school teacher was giving me a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me. It had never occurred to me that teachers would lie to students. The title intrigued me so much that on Friday night I found myself staying up almost all night reading, instead of going out with friends.
On a day as pristine as all the others, the chicken is happily eating his lunchtime meal as the nice man carefully gathers the smooth white eggs when it notices that the man has left one behind. Strangely located at the empty end of the metal enclosure, highlighted by the bright yellow sun, the white egg appears to the chicken different from the rest. The chicken moves towards the light to tacitly inform the man of his mistake. But then the chicken notices a jagged gray line on the otherwise flawless egg. Hypnotized and appalled, the chicken watches as the line turns into a crack and a small beak attached to a fuzzy yellow head pokes out. Suddenly a shadow descends over the chicken and the nice man snatches the egg--the baby chick--and stomps off.
This remains one of the most challenging prompts of the Common App’s selection, even though it has become slightly friendlier with the addition of the option to discuss a time you questioned an idea instead of challenged one. This prompt requires a student to speak passionately about beliefs and ideology, which are often onerous subjects that can be difficult to mold into compact stories. It can be one of the hardest questions to steer in a positive, productive direction without traveling into preachy, overly didactic territory. This is also a more precarious prompt than most in that students need to carefully assess the risks of espousing beliefs that might be polarizing for the readers of their applications.
Then, in high school, I developed an enthusiasm for Chinese. As I studied Chinese at my school, I marveled how if just one stroke was missing from a character, the meaning is lost. I loved how long words were formed by combining simpler characters, so Huǒ (火) meaning fire and Shān (山) meaning mountain can be joined to create Huǒshān (火山), which means volcano. I love spending hours at a time practicing the characters and I can feel the beauty and rhythm as I form them.

For my next article for the class, I wrote about the practice of my own high school suspending students, sometimes indefinitely, for seemingly minor offenses such as tardiness and smoking. I found that the number of suspensions had increased by 200% at my school in just three years, and also discovered that students who are suspended after only one offense often drop out and some later end up in prison. The article caused quite a stir. The administration of my school dismissed it, but it caught the attention of my local newspaper. A local journalist worked with me to publish an updated and more thoroughly researched version of my article in the local newspaper. The article forced the school board to revisit their “zero tolerance” policy as well as reinstate some indefinitely suspended students. I won no favors with the administration and it was a difficult time for me, but it was also thrilling to see how one article can have such a direct effect on people’s lives. It reaffirmed my commitment to a career in journalism.


The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase “you know,” so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father’s strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn’t occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.


Answer: Your essay can draw on whatever moves you, regardless of when the anecdote, event, or inciting incident you’re writing about occurred. However, what matters most, in terms of timeline, is that you show your readers how the event not only influences you now but will continue to inflect your thinking about yourself and the world as the years roll on.
Just before 5 pm on Sunday, October 13, 2013, I was sitting in a bar, holding on to a feeling of optimism that was fading fast. But wait: it’s not what you think. I didn’t turn to drink; I turned to the TV screen. The score was 27-23, and the Patriots had missed too many opportunities. With just over a minute left to play, my dad—the man responsible for bringing me, a 15-year-old, to a bar—dejectedly asked me if we should leave. I reminded him a true sports fan never gives up on her team, no matter the situation. And after a miracle of a drive finished with an unforgettable pass into the corner of the endzone by my idol, Tom Brady, a swell of elated cheering and high-fiving from the fans in the bar ensued regardless of whether we had previously known one another. Loyalty brought us all together.
Despite (or perhaps in light of) all this intellectual and creative freedom, you may find yourself stuck. Don’t worry, one of the most common questions all high schoolers have is, “What should I write my college essay about?” When I help students brainstorm potential essay topics, I usually ask them dozens of questions, hoping to unearth just a single response that will capture the interest of a college admissions officer. For some students, however, the essay prompts themselves can provide a great source of inspiration. If you’re looking for little nudge in the right direction, take our college essay quiz below. Based on your responses to 14 simple questions, we can help you identify which of the seven Common App essay prompts may best allow you to share your story with colleges. Ready to find out which Common App prompt you are?

The Harry S. Chandler Memorial Scholarship is to be used by a high school graduate from Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Clark, Marion, Columbia, Umatilla, or Coos counties in Oregon. Applicants are asked to submit a 2-page essay addressing the meaning of diversity, how diversity has influenced your life so far, the role that diversity will play in achieving your educational goals and/or the [...] More
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When I was sixteen I moved on to a larger project: my clunker of a car. I had purchased my 2002 Elantra with my own savings, but it was long past its prime. With some instruction from a mechanic, I began to learn the components of an engine motor and the engineering behind it. I repaired my brake light, replaced my battery, and made adjustments to the power-steering hose. Engineering was no longer just a nerdy pursuit of robotics kids; it was a medium to a solution. It could be a way to a career, doing the things I love. I was inspired to learn more.

Throughout this guide, we’re going to refer to a few example essays. Some of these are made up but others are closely based on essays we have worked with students on over the past ten-plus years—and these students successfully met their admissions goals, including getting into multiple Ivy League and other top-tier schools. Let’s meet our students now!

Perhaps the narratives I spoke of earlier, the stories I mistakenly labeled as “semantics,” carry real weight in our everyday decisions. In the case of Walker’s study, men unconsciously created an irrational narrative around an abstract rock. We all tell slightly different narratives when we independently consider notions ranging from rocks to war to existence. It is ultimately the unconscious gaps in these narratives that are responsible for many of the man-made problems this world faces. In order for the “life of the mind” to be a worthwhile endeavor, we must challenge the unconscious narratives we attach to the larger games we play—the truths we tell (or don’t tell), the lessons we learn (or haven’t really learned), the people we meet (or haven’t truly met).

In order to qualify for the Mexican-American Dream Scholarship, students must be an AB-540 student or member of a COFEM affiliated federation or club and reside and attend school in the following counties only: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Inland Empire, and Ventura County. A minimum 2.5 GPA is required, as well as demonstrated financial aid. Students must be willing to volunteer 25-50 hours [...] More
My father left when I was one year old and I will soon be turning 17; I did the math and found that for about 5900 days he has neglected me. He was able to sleep 5900 nights without knowing whether or not I was dead or alive. Even though he’s been gone for 5900 days,  my life did not get put on hold. In those 5900 days I learned how to walk, talk, and I became a strong young man without the provider of my Y Chromosome because he is nothing more to me than that.
Of course, those 28 months were too short to fully understand all five families, but I learned from and was shaped by each of them. By teaching me English, nine year-old Cody taught me the importance of being able to learn from anyone; the Martinez family showed me the value of spending time together as a family; the Struiksma family taught me to reserve judgment about divorced women and adopted children; Mrs. Ortiz taught me the value of discipline and the Dirksen family taught me the importance of appreciating one another’s different qualities.
It was in the halls of my first high school, International Studies Charter High School, that I realized the enormity of what I had lost. Where my peers retained their cultural identities and language, I had almost lost mine. It was there, I learned to embrace a part of me that was virtually buried inside, as I was encouraged to be more open: speaking Creole with my Haitian math teacher and peers. As a senior, I now volunteer weekly helping Haitian ESOL students with their homework. I am both a teacher and a student in that small classroom as I help them with their homework, and, in return, they help me in perfecting my use of Creole. They are my daily reminder of what unites us as Haitians—our ability to triumph in the face of adversity.
For many high school seniors, it can be maddeningly frustrating to choose the “right” Common App essay topic because the options are so broad. Take a look at the seven available essay prompts for the 2018-19 Common App. (These prompts are unchanged from the 2017-18 application season.) As we noted in a previous blog post, prompt number 7 actually grants students permission to write their own essay question and respond to it. How open-ended can you get?
You want to stand out among the rest of the applicants, as well as provide new information that the admission officers do not already know about you. They will know what GPA you have before they start reading the essay as it’s one of the details they get with the application. Mentioning the GPA in your essay will sound like bragging and be uninteresting.
In 2015, the city of Melbourne, Australia created a "tree-mail" service, in which all of the trees in the city received an email address so that residents could report any tree-related issues. As an unexpected result, people began to email their favorite trees sweet and occasionally humorous letters. Imagine this has been expanded to any object (tree or otherwise) in the world, and share with us the letter you’d send to your favorite.
The Jordan & Cara Odo Scholarship Foundation will award a $1,000 scholarship to a bright and talented high school senior seeking to further his or her education. Applicants must be a high school senior currently attending a high school in Hawaii; plan to attend a two- or four-year college; and have a minimum 2.5 GPA. A 500-word essay will be part of the application.
I was taking a composition class, and we were learning how to write persuasive essays. Up until that point, I had had average grades, but I was always a good writer and my teacher immediately recognized this. The first paper I wrote for the class was about my experience going to an Indian reservation located near my uncle's ranch in southwest Colorado. I wrote of the severe poverty experienced by the people on the reservation, and the lack of access to voting booths during the most recent election. After reading this short story, my teacher approached me and asked about my future plans. No one had ever asked me this, and I wasn't sure how to answer. I said I liked writing and I liked thinking about people who are different from myself. She gave me a book and told me that if I had time to read it, she thought it would be something I would enjoy. I was actually quite surprised that a high school teacher was giving me a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me. It had never occurred to me that teachers would lie to students. The title intrigued me so much that on Friday night I found myself staying up almost all night reading, instead of going out with friends.
Another way to answer this prompt is to discuss a time when you noticed a need for change. For example, if you wondered why medical records are often handwritten, or why a doctor’s visit can be long and awkward, maybe you challenged the norm in healthcare by brainstorming an electronic-recording smartphone app or a telemedicine system. In a similar way, if you led a fundraiser and recognized that advertising on social media would be more effective than the traditional use of printed flyers, you could write about a topic along those lines as well. Focus on what action or experience caused you to recognize the need for change and follow with your actions and resulting outcome.
Being part of a minority is very conflicting for me as I feel both empowered as a part of a Haitian minority community but also disconnected from my non-immigrant peers. Coming from a background of poverty in Haiti, I knew that, even at a very young age, I had to be a good student in order to succeed. This work ethic--found throughout my Haitian community--has been very beneficial in my life as we all came here to pave ourselves a better future. As my mom held two jobs, went to college, and was temporarily homeless just to secure me a better future, I feel invigorated to be part of such an indefatigable community. And, it is because of this strong work ethic, central to my community’s core values, that I am now the salutatorian of a class of 679 students.
Any Georgia high school senior (or a GED equivalency) who is a United States citizen graduating by the spring of the current academic year or any Georgia student currently enrolled in a school of accredited higher education located in Georgia is eligible to apply for a COAG scholarship. Applicants must present a letter of acceptance or enrollment from a school of accredited higher education [...] More

A scholarship available to any lesbian or gay undergrad student from the state of Alabama. The scholarship applies to attendance at any institute of higher learning in the United States. The essay should be no more than five pages and discuss the applicant's background, educational history, goals for the future and why the applicant believes he or she should receive the scholarship. For more [...] More
The Massachusetts Youth Soccer Scholarship Program is for high school seniors who plan to attend a post-secondary educational institution. A scholarship of $1,000 will be awarded to one male and one female each year. To be eligible for this scholarship, the student-athlete must have been associated with Massachusetts Youth Soccer for at least the past two years. Each application (and supporting [...] More
AAA South Jersey is sponsoring its annual essay contest for local high school seniors, with the grand prize being a $5,000 scholarship toward a two-or-four year accredited educational institution. The contest is open to all high school seniors attending school in Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester or Salem counties. Entry forms are available at AAA South Jersey offices in Voorhees, Sewell, Logan [...] More
I was taking a composition class, and we were learning how to write persuasive essays. Up until that point, I had had average grades, but I was always a good writer and my teacher immediately recognized this. The first paper I wrote for the class was about my experience going to an Indian reservation located near my uncle's ranch in southwest Colorado. I wrote of the severe poverty experienced by the people on the reservation, and the lack of access to voting booths during the most recent election. After reading this short story, my teacher approached me and asked about my future plans. No one had ever asked me this, and I wasn't sure how to answer. I said I liked writing and I liked thinking about people who are different from myself. She gave me a book and told me that if I had time to read it, she thought it would be something I would enjoy. I was actually quite surprised that a high school teacher was giving me a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me. It had never occurred to me that teachers would lie to students. The title intrigued me so much that on Friday night I found myself staying up almost all night reading, instead of going out with friends.

Believe it or not, some scholarship providers actually specify the font type and size as part of their scholarship essay requirements. If you have access to a computer and printer, take the time to prepare a type-written essay following any formatting requirements or guidelines set forth by the scholarship provider. If you have the time and know-how, create address labels for your scholarship envelope. Every little detail towards a clean and professional presentation will make an impression on the person reading your essay.

The Texas Wildlife Association Foundation (TWAF) and the San Antonio Livestock Exposition, Inc. (SALE) have joined forces to offer five Natural Resource-Excellence in Education Scholarships in the fall. The scholarships will be awarded to five freshmen at Texas universities who are majoring in natural resource related field such as agricultural science, wildlife science, forestry, range science, [...] More
For this prompt, stay away from figures that are likely to be written about by hundreds of potential students (presidents, Mother Teresa, etc.), and pick a figure you are actually passionate about and interested in, rather than what you think sounds most academic. If you want to go personal and choose a family member, make sure you have a memorable and unique reason. 
In addition to the essay included with the Common Application and as part of Villanova’s Member Section of the Common Application, Villanova requires that you submit one Villanova Essay (of 250-1000 words per the Common Application guidelines) from the three choices below. This essay is an important part of your application as it provides us with an opportunity to gain more insights into your candidacy.
The Hunt Leadership Scholars Program provides full SMU tuition and fees, less the amount of resident tuition and fees at the leading public university of the student's state of residency. If eligible, a student can be awarded need-based aid in addition to the Hunt Scholarship. For students who have a profound potential for future leadership, we want to make a private education as affordable as a [...] More
While I was volunteering I met a woman who happened to live in the same building as my aunt. Unemployed with two young children, and a husband earning minimum wage at a fast food restaurant, she struggled to get by every day. I thought to myself – many in my community are just like her. Then I realized I could do something to help. How? I can start a financial literacy program, which teaches Hispanic women to earn and manage money. Once a woman becomes financially literate, she is capable of making good personal and profession decisions, empowering her to improve her family’s financial well-being. Moreover, such a program will help Hispanic women become competitive employees, even in a slow recovering economy such as the one we are experiencing now.
(This approach) pushes kids to use examples to push their amazing qualities, provide some context, and end with hopes and dreams. Colleges are seeking students who will thrive on their campuses, contribute in numerous ways, especially “bridge” building, and develop into citizens who make their worlds and our worlds a better place. So application essays are a unique way for applicants to share, reflect, and connect their values and goals with colleges. Admissions officers want students to share their power, their leadership, their initiative, their grit, their kindness—all through relatively recent stories. I ask students: “Can the admissions officers picture you and help advocate for you by reading your essays?” Often kids don’t see their power, and we can help them by realizing what they offer colleges through their activities and life experiences. Ultimately I tell them, “Give the colleges specific reasons to accept you—and yes you will have to ‘brag.’ But aren’t you worth it? Use your essays to empower your chances of acceptance, merit money, and scholarships.”
Your college essay should reflect your authentic speaking voice, but that doesn’t mean that you can write it like a lengthy text message. There’s simply no excuse for any major grammatical or spelling errors on your essay. After you’ve completed your essay, go over it with a fine-toothed comb to look for any technical errors. A second pair of eyes can be essential; sometimes, writers are blind to their own mistakes. If you and your helper can’t agree on the proper grammar for a particular phrase, rewrite the phrase to avoid the thorny issue. Also take the time to read your essay aloud; certain phrases may sound fine in your head, but hearing them spoken can highlight awkward phrasing or unclear wording.
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