So you’ve started putting together your college applications, and like a boss, you’ve been requesting transcripts, filling in your personal information, and asking for recommendation letters. But there’s one last requirement that you’ve been dreading. It’s the summit of your mountain, the boss fight in your video game, the spun sugar on your croquembouche.
She’s only got 650 words. Which leads us to Tip #1: Take refuge in the anecdote, in the specific, in the particular: everything gets easier if you choose something specific. Many writers—of college essays and other media—get stressed out, believing that they must convey their entire selves in an essay. This just isn’t possible to do in the capsule of space that is your Common App personal statement. And, it will ironically accomplish the opposite—it’ll cause your essay to look shapeless and meandering, therefore communicating very little about you. If you instead use an individual story as a stand-in for something larger, or for something else, your essay becomes a kind of parable or lesson that educates your reader both about you and, hopefully, about a part of the world they’ve never previously considered.
Even though most college applications only have a suggested minimum of 250 words and no established limit, it is imperative that students realize that every admissions officer has a large pile of essays to read on a daily basis. Since he or she normally expects to spend fewer than five minutes reading through your writing, it is recommended that your essay has fewer than 700 words total to avoid straining their patience. Instead of trying to cover everything in your essay, be concise and coherent when giving the committee a snapshot of your autobiography.
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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.

I idolized my older sister. She was five years older than me and my link to the shadowy world of adulthood that seemed so out of reach. When she went away, I was devastated. It was a very wet summer that year and one particularly rainy day, I was lying in her empty bed looking at the artifacts she'd left behind, clutching an old sweater. My eyes travelled around the room and came to rest on her bookshelf. For whatever reason, I picked one book up and began thumbing through it. It was Emile Zola's Germinal and it was to change my life forever.
Unfortunately, the ordeal of living with a chronic illness or undergoing a major operation extends beyond the confines of the hospital. Whether it is creditors harassing patients for medical bills, prescriptions that need to be refilled, or lifestyle modifications that need to be made, the health care experience doesn’t end when a patient walks out of the hospital doors. It often takes merely a minute, as in the case of the “good” doctor who told me that as a student I could apply to get the procedure financially covered by the hospital. Such foresight in anticipating financial concerns and directing me on the next steps to be taken provided relief in the surmounting stress.
Ten minutes prior, I had been eating dinner with my family at a Chinese restaurant, drinking chicken-feet soup. My mom had specifically asked the waitress if there were peanuts in it, because when I was two we found out that I am deathly allergic to them. When the waitress replied no, I went for it. Suddenly I started scratching my neck, feeling the hives that had started to form. I rushed to the restroom to throw up because my throat was itchy and I felt a weight on my chest. I was experiencing anaphylactic shock, which prevented me from taking anything but shallow breaths. I was fighting the one thing that is meant to protect me and keep me alive – my own body.
It is the mission of the NW EEO/Affirmative Action Association (NWEEO) to provide education, information and resources to individuals, groups and institutions in support of their efforts with regard to equal employment opportunity, diversity, and affirmative action planning. In concert with our mission, NW EEO offers the Alyce Marcus scholarship to eligible high school graduates in the Portland [...] More
There’s more that goes into applying to college than what we’ve been able to cover here, including your grades, standardized test scores, and recommendation letters, but your essays are some of the most important materials. They form the cornerstone of the qualitative side of your application. Get these right and your entire application starts from strength. Good luck!
Make a list of experiences that have been important to you. These do not have to be dramatic, tragic, traumatic, or prove that you changed the world, though they can be any of those. Perhaps a particular summer that mattered a lot? Or an experience with friend or family member who shaped you—it could be a specific day spent with them, or a weekend, a summer, a year?
The Seattle Public Library Foundation is pleased to host the Stimson Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship Competition. High school seniors and undergraduate students who live, work or attend school in Seattle are invited to participate. The competition asks students to write an essay about an individual or group of individuals from Washington state who have demonstrated civic courage on an issue of [...] More

We talked a lot about whether Josh would do best avoiding writing about piano—it’s the main thing on his resumé and sometimes it can be good to show things off-resumé, as Ramya and Anita plan to. Josh did some writing about his relationship with his sister and his brother, and that might find a home in the secondary essays. But it became clear that Josh has an obsessive, if not always positive, relationship with piano, and so there’s something there.

Where did you grow up? Describe your neighborhood, town, or community. Big or small? What makes it unlike other parts of the world? How has it affected you? What images are important for someone who has never been to your hometown/neighborhood/community to see? For instance, is there farmland all around you, grain silos, cows? A Chik-Fil-A every block?
This is a heavily revised version of one of 2016’s prompts, which asked students to describe a transition from childhood to adulthood. The purview of the inquiry has been expanded to ask about personal growth in general, leaving the lessons and timing of an applicant’s transformation more open-ended. Students are also now free to reflect on a “realization” in addition to an “event” or “occurrence.” While a realization that changes your understanding of the world will likely be sparked by a concrete marker (i.e., an event or accomplishment), we are happy to receive the added flexibility from you, Common App. Thank you very much.
This experience was not the only reason I wanted to study criminal justice, but it did play a big part. I started exploring the career more when I decided that a desk job just wasn’t for me. Throughout high school I struggled because of the routine nature of it all. I saw the same people and attended the same classes every single day. I knew I didn’t want a job that would be that stagnant. That’s when I got the idea to work in law enforcement, because there would always be a new challenge for me to tackle. After researching the field even more, I set my sights on crime scene investigation.
Now, taking your chosen topic, it’s time to outline it. Outlining works great for some people as a pre-writing tactic, and we always recommend it. For others, it can be harder than simply getting down to writing. If you’re really struggling to outline and would rather just follow the pen to a first draft, that’s fine, but do yourself a favor and make outlining your second draft step. At some point, everyone needs an outline, but it’s your call when to do it. Let’s follow this through with Ramya’s essay on the Patriots. The model we’ll use for this essay is a five-paragraph, anecdote-driven essay.
It’s said that boys learn to be a man from their fathers, that they learn what it means to be a man that has values and can stand up for what’s right. I, however, have found that grit can come from anywhere. When I was in middle school I was overweight and many other boys would call me names, and even after going to administration several times nothing changed and for several years I kept myself at bay because if I had done anything in return I would be no better than those guys who bullied me. I previously had this perception that somebody else would come to my rescue, that somebody else would provide the mental strength to combat the hardships that were sent my way. But as time passed I grew tired of waiting for help that was never going to come so I had to become my own hero. Since making that decision I have been liberated from the labels that previously confined me and I took back control of my own life.
In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event, or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application.
Reflect on a service activity or other efforts you've undertaken to contribute to your community or communities. Your actions might involve individual service, a group project, or substantial activities to support your family, such as employment or caring for a sick relative. What did you learn about yourself and your community? What did you learn about how society functions more generally?
As a whole, this prompt lends itself to reflective writing, and more specifically, talking the reader through your thought processes. In many cases, the exploration of your thought processes and decision-making is more important than the actual outcome or concept in question. In short, this essay is very much about “thinking,” rumination, and inquisition. A good brainstorming exercise for this prompt would be to write your problem on a sheet of paper and then develop various solutions to the problem, including a brief reason for justification. The more thorough you are in justifying and explaining your solutions in the essay, the more compelling your response will be.
There’s more that goes into applying to college than what we’ve been able to cover here, including your grades, standardized test scores, and recommendation letters, but your essays are some of the most important materials. They form the cornerstone of the qualitative side of your application. Get these right and your entire application starts from strength. Good luck!
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The Apprentice Ecologist Initiative awards three scholarships to the authors of the three best Apprentice Ecologist essays. Applicants should embody the spirit of the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative by demonstrating personal leadership and environmental stewardship in their project. Winning essays have been 750 to 1,500 words long. Middle school, high school, or undergraduate college/university [...] More
Say you’re writing an essay for a business class. You may want to use charts to illustrate certain information, like company revenue, company expenditures, or client engagement over time. This is where a chart maker tool can come in handy. Beam is free to use and allows you to create the four basic chart types: pie charts, bar charts, column charts and line charts. You are also able to choose from four snazzy preset templates.  
Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you’re in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.
It is good to be afraid of cliché—but one of the truisms about clichés is that they become trite because they reiterate feelings we’ve all had. That also means that buried beneath many clichés is some authentic, particular, and personal relationship you have to your topic. If you’re working with a teacher, counselor, or advisor on your statement, they can help you discern whether you’re in cliché territory or whether you’ve bypassed it to a more fruitful realm.

What major changes have you been through? A move? Changing schools? Losing a loved one or a friend? (Avoid writing about romantic relationships and breakups in your essays, but feel free to mine them in your freewriting.) Tell the story of the day that change occurred—the day you moved, the first day at the new school or the last day at the old school, the day you got bad news about a family member or a friend, etc.
My parents would have much preferred that I write about sports or youth group, and I probably could have said something interesting about those, but I insisted on writing about a particular fish in the pet store I worked at—one that took much longer than the others to succumb when the whole tank system in the store became diseased. It was a macabre little composition, but it was about exactly what was on my mind at the time I was writing it. I think it gave whoever read it a pretty good view of my 17 year-old self. I'll never know if I got in because of that weird essay or in spite of it, but it remains a point of pride that I did it my way.
There are a few things to note when unpacking this prompt. Keep in mind that the words “accomplishment” and “event” leave themselves open to interpretation; thus, an essay inspired by this question can tackle anything from a formal event to a very small occurrence. A formal event or accomplishment might include anything from obvious landmarks like birthdays or weddings to achievements like earning an award or receiving a promotion. More informal examples might include something as simple as meeting a special person in your life, taking a car ride, or eating a particularly meaningful meal. We have often found that smaller, less formal events make for more surprising and memorable essays; but as with any of the other prompts, as long as you can answer with originality and put a unique twist on your subject matter, all ideas are fair game.
OK, that is in no way a direct quotation, nor is it anything close to blank verse, but trust me: the bard would want you to avoid trying to anticipate what the admission staff want to read. So don’t try to be too clever or cutesy in your essay, and don’t try to embellish a perfectly simple story. “We’re trying to discern whether you can you put thoughts on paper in a coherent manner,” says Southwestern University’s Vice President for Strategic Recruitment and Enrollment Tom Delahunt. “The topic doesn’t have to be heavy, like death, dying, or a debilitating illness. It can be light and still give us an indication that you can write and effectively communicate.” Everyday experiences can be meaningful, and you should describe how a particular difficult conversation affected your thinking about cultural differences or how collecting antique typewriters helps you see technology in a different way. But don’t exaggerate the significance of your experience; the effect it’s had on your personal growth does not need to be elevated to the level of global impact.
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This is one of the most common mistakes that students make. In the pursuit to write the perfect essay, many forget to connect it to the original prompt. While the Common Application prompts for the main essay are general enough to allow students to write about whatever they choose, it still needs to be clear how that essay addresses the prompt. The same applies to school-specific essays. Check and double check that a clear connection is made between the topic or lesson of your essay, and the question the prompt is asking.
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“That man in the plaid shirt is stealing the eggs from their mothers again,” the chicken thinks the next day as he unlocks the cage. Then the man reaches into the wooden coop, his back to the entrance. “Now!” At its own cue, the chicken scurries towards the opening and exits unseen. With a backwards glance at his friends, the chicken feels a profound sadness and pity for their ignorance. It wants to urge them to open their eyes, to see what they are sacrificing for materialistic pleasures, but he knows they will not surrender the false reality. Alone, the chicken dashes away.
This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.
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