Essay Forum College Application

Essay writing is often an important part of applying for scholarships. No matter what subject you study, writing well is an essential skill, and colleges want to test your capabilities before they let you in the door. Having your scholarship and admissions prospects depend so heavily on a single piece of your writing can be intimidating, but with the right preparation, any prospective student can put together a well crafted essay. The tools and articles on this list are great sources of inspiration, instruction, and motivation for students writing essays that may heavily influence their educational and financial futures.

You can scroll through this list, or use the links below to jump to a specific section.

Update: In an effort to make this list even more comprehensive, we’ve gathered 10 additional tools in an Honorable Mention section!

Though every college and scholarship offers different prompts and content guidelines, most essays follow a few basic rules regarding paragraph structure, composition, and style. Once you’ve mastered the basic form of an essay, no creative or bizarre topic will prevent you from producing a beautiful piece of writing.

  • The Choice (New York Times), “How to Write a College Application Essay”

    The New York Times piece on “How to Write a College Application Essay” is is concise and informative, and is a great read for someone just getting started writing their college essays, or someone who has written plenty but wants a reminder of the important basics.

  • U.S. News Professors’ Guide, “10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay”

    US News 10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay breaks down the best ways for students to excel at the, arguably, most unpredictable part of a college application.

  • UTNE Reader, “How to Write a Personal Essay”

    UTNE Reader describes the best way to write a personal essay by focusing on composition and staying on point.

  • CollegeXPress, “College Application Essays Step-by-Step”

    This step-by-step guide to composing a strong college application essay is a great starting point for people who are diving into college applications, or just a good reference for anyone who feels stuck writing their admissions essay and needs advice about what to do next.

  • Morrison Institute for Public Policy, “Essay Structure”

    Morrison Institute for Public Policy gives insight on the best ways to structure essays and even gives contextual advice for students to have the most well-rounded essay possible.

  • Monash University Language and Learning Online, “Essay Structure”

    Monash university’s Language and Learning Online website shows how to structure essays with a straightforward picture of an essay outline with detailed breakdowns of each section.

  • University of Waterloo, “Essay Structure”

    University of Waterloo gives valuable tips for writing an essay with a strong focus on properly structuring each part in an intuitive way for the reader to comprehend.

  • Power to Change, “Study skills: How to write effective essay exams in college and university”

    Power to Change provides valuable insight on writing essays with ways focused more on your life around writing the essay and how it better prepares you to write well.

  • Lifehack, “7 Tips for Writing Exam Essays”

    Lifehack’s “7 Tips for Writing Exam Essays” is great for a quick read-through before sitting down to work on an essay. It underlines some common sense essay advice in combination with often overlooked aspects.

  • EssayEdge

    EssayEdge provides personalized editing services for all types of academic essays. By working with a professional editor, students can improve their essays and their writing skills for future essays.

  • Essay Forum

    Essay Forum is fantastic for people who can’t find particular questions about writing essays or have a road block inhibiting their ability to finish a thesis. Users are able to post questions to a community to find the best solution to anything essay related.

  • Boston University, “Write an Essay that Stands Out”

    Boston University has a video tutorial advising students on how to “Write an Essay that Stands Out.” The video is informative and to-the-point in order for the fastest way to improve writing an essay.

  • Essays

    The Essays Section of ACT Den gives advice on particular parts of an essay, the writing process, and even different types of essays with the tricks to each.

  • James Cook University, “The Process of Essay Writing”

    James Cook University has a simple illustration of how to form an essay and it is useful for those unfamiliar to the process.

  • University of New South Wales, “Essay Writing: The Basics”

    The University of New South Wales gives simple tips for writing and structuring essays. The advice is great for brushing up on essay areas possibly forgotten.

  • Watson-Brown Foundation, “SK’s Essay Writing Tips”

    Watson-Brown Foundation’s Scholarship Director Sarah Katherine McNeil gives her top 10 tips for writing essays successfully. Since the advice comes directly from someone who awards scholarships and has read a significant number of scholarships, it is very helpful.

  • Birmingham City University Centre for Academic Success, “How to Write an Essay”

    Birmingham City University Centre for Academic Success helps students write an essay with a general overview of the process. The advice is great for those not extensively versed in essay writing.

  • Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, “Writing an Essay Outline”

    Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology touches on the essentials of a good essay through its guide on writing a good outline.

  • is an online community for writers to share their work and get constructive criticism. A section of the site is dedicated to essay writing, and you’ll have to sign up for a membership, but that’s free and well worth it.

  • College application and admissions essays often serve the purpose of showing the college’s admissions office what unique strengths and qualities a potential student will contribute to the school. The personal nature of these essays dictates a slightly different style than a typical essay, and knowing how to make a good impression in the first paragraph is key.

  • In Their Own Words: Admissions Essays That Worked

    This article from the University of Chicago’s Law School showcases admissions essays from students who successfully got into the University’s law program. Looking at examples of success is a great way for students to learn what works for a college admissions essay.

  • Story to College

    Story to College is an online, storytelling-based college application essay course and it uses innovative techniques to help students stay engaged and retain better writing techniques to successfully formulate a quality college essay.

  • Essay Hell

    Essay Hell is a writing source that assists prospective college students with their college application essays to optimize their chances to get into the school they desire.

  • Wow Writing Workshop

    WOW Writing Workshop works with students to get as acquainted with them as possible because in order to write an effective college essay, a student must integrate their own experiences into it. The 10-step method was developed by professional writers and teachers, with professional coaching available as well. Wow Writing Workshop also offers an online tutorial and a free version of their product.

  • Wisechoice, Essay Tamer

    Wisechoice is a website designed to help guide students through college planning. They help students coordinate visits to colleges, trim their essays into more a formative representation of the student, and even locate applicable scholarships. Their Essay Tamer is fantastic at walking students who may be nervous about the application writing process through some excellent exercises.

  • Statement of Purpose specializes in offering advice, examples, prompts, and exercises to help students write statements of purpose for any academic purpose, from college or scholarship applications to applying for fellowships or even just proposing a class project to colleagues or professors.

  • Veritas Prep, “Writing an A+ Admissions Essay”

    Veritas Prep gives students a list of ways to turn a crucial corner on writing a college admissions essay. Additionally, they provide links to more essay tips at the bottom of the page to supplement the content.

  • The University of Georgia, “Suggestions For Writing Admission Essays”

    The University of Georgia’s Undergraduate Admissions provides suggestions for writing admission essays and the tips are designed to help students have the best chance to succeed.

  • The Admission Centre’s “Essay” Section

    The Admission Centre’s “Essay” Section categorizes an assortment of topics and details how to avoid common mistakes students make when writing college admissions essays.

  • College Essay Whiz

    College Essay Whiz guides students through the process of applying for college by advising students on which schools most closely fit characteristics they desire. Additionally, their experts provide advice on college essays and applications to graduate programs, including law and medical school.

  • MIT Admissions, “How To Write A College Essay”

    MIT Admissions breaks down how to write the best college essay and explains why writing well is so difficult. they reference other great writers and their tips as well, so it’s lush with useful information.l

  • National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Top Ten Tips for Writing a College Essay

    The National Association for College Admission Counseling gives straightforward advice for achieving the best results on a college essay. This accredited institution is designed specifically to help students get in and prepare for college, so their wealth of knowledge is almost unparalleled.

  • Teen Ink, “Today’s Best College Essays”

    Since 1989 Teen Ink has provided a series of formats for teenagers to publish their works. A special section looks at “Today’s Best College Essays” and it helps paint a better picture of what good college essays are supposed to look like.

  • The Straighter Line’s “How to Write a Killer College Application Essay”

    The Straighter Line explains how to write an essay that will get the student noticed, along with emphasize how they will fit into the culture of the university. The tips are to-the-point and intuitive resources to improving any writing process.

  • Quintessential Careers, “Writing the Successful College Application Essay: Tips for Success”

    Quintessential Careers helps students with their collage application essay process through a three-step system that is easy-to-understand, while simultaneously not lacking content.

  • Think Tank Learning, “Writing Your College Application Essay When You Don’t Know Your Major”

    Think Tank Learning gives interesting insight into an area not commonly thought of – undecided majors. Their article on writing college application essays is particularly useful for those who are still trying to figure out what they want to major in.

  • Hamden Patch, “8 Ways to Write a Stronger College Admissions Essay”

    Hamden Patch’s article focuses on preparing students to write quality admissions essays and has a chief goal of helping relieve stress of high school seniors filling out college applications.

  • College Scholarships and Awards, “How to Write a Scholarship Essay”

    How to Write a Scholarship Essay assists those unfamiliar with the process by breaking down step-by-step how to write a scholarship essay with great bullet points to underline important details.

  • Vanderbilt University’s “The College Essay”

    Vanderbilt University’s “The College Essay” category is plush with articles on the admissions process and how to succeed in writing the best application essay possible.

  • Scholarships are often awarded by organizations that espouse specific ideals, and applicants often have to write about their relationship to the organization or the cause. Participation in activities you’re passionate about makes great fodder for these topical essays.

  • College Scholarships’ Essay Examples

    Collage gives students examples of Sample Scholarship Essays to equip them with the best resources to secure scholarships to fund going to college.

  • GradeSaver Scholarship Essay Help

    The Gradesaver Scholarship Essay Help gives great tips to students who are preparing their essays to gain scholarships for college. They categorize each part of the essay, including easy-to-miss things, like making sure to consider the values of the institution.

  • MiraCosta College, “Tips for Writing a Great Scholarship Essay”

    MiraCosta College’s “Tips for Writing a a Great Scholarship Essay” look at a number of ways to improve your scholarship essay and includes links to other resources for fine-tuning.

  • Scholarship and Study Abroad Tips, “Tips on how to write a good scholarship/admission essay”

    Study Domain’s Scholarship and Study Abroad Tips section has an article devoted exclusively to writing quality scholarship/admissions essays. The article not only touches on the things to watch domestically, but information for applying to study abroad.

  • Cornell College, “Tips for Writing Essays for Scholarship and Fellowship Applications”

    Cornell College’s “Tips for Writing Essays for Scholarship and Fellowship Applications” helps students currently in college apply for upperclassmen scholarships and graduate fellowships in a straightforward manner.

  • School Tutoring, “How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay”

    School Tutoring details the process to writing scholarship essays that lead to acquiring the best possible scholarships. The 10 tips are easy to follow, but very informative.

  • Evolutionwriters, “How to Write a Scholarship Essay”

    Evolutionwriters makes writing college scholarship essays a much less daunting process with some great tips for honing in on easier-to-miss elements.

  • How to Learn, “Best College Scholarships 2013 Essay Writing Tips”

    How To Learn’s “Best College Scholarships 2013 Essay Writing Tips” help students with five tips to implement to turn a crucial corner on scholarship essay writing that allow students to stand out of the pack.

  • The Saybrook College Blog Scholarship Essay Samples

    The Saybrooke College Blog Scholarship Essay Samples are all varied in theme and approach, so that students can have a better picture of how to apply their efforts when writing a scholarship essay.

  • University of Michigan Sample Scholarship Essays

    University of Michigan’s Sample Scholarship Essays look at quality essays to give students an idea as to what is expected when applying for scholarships. The examples should be sufficient to give any student looking for guidance on scholarship essays.

  • Owens Community College, “Writing a Strong Scholarship Essay”

    Owens Community College outlines how to write a strong scholarship essay through good proofreading advice and personal insight. It explains the best approaches to scholarship essay writing and good ways to ensure success.

  • Scholarship Experts, “5 Tips for Writing a Great Scholarship Essay”

    Scholarship Experts provide great tips on how to engage the reader of a scholarship essay through honest and useful advice.

  • University of Alaska Anchorage, “Writing an Effective UA Online Scholarship Essay”

    University of Alaska Anchorage’s Office of Student Financial Assistance helps students lessen the financial burden incurred by tuition through a series of useful essay-writing tools and advice for nailing scholarship essays.

  • International Student Essay Writing Center

    International Student’s Essay Writing Center looks at all forms of writing essays that will be evaluated, be it for scholarships or admissions. The advice is geared towards those who plan to study internationally or currently are.

  • California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, “Scholarship Essay Writing Tips”

    California State Polytechnic University looks at scholarship essays and the best course of action for qualifying for scholarships. The tips they give on writing a scholarship set students up for the best opportunities.

  • University Language Services, “How to Write an Essay for a Scholarship”

    University Language Services highlights the key features to writing a scholarship essay that will prove most fruitful when evaluated.

  • Front Range Community College, “8 Tips for Writing a Killer Scholarship Essay”

    Front Range Community College aims to equip students with the best resources for successfully writing scholarship essays. The tips are useful for improving scholarship essays before submitting.

  • Lucid Movement, “Scholarship Essay Writing Tips”

    Lucid Movement points at easy scholarship writing advice so students can easily understand how to improve their essays.

  • Kansas State University, “Writing Scholarship Essays”

    Kansas State University’s section on writing scholarship essays is useful since it tailors its content help students achieve the best results possible. The advice gives an overview, followed by a more thorough explanation for scholarship essay writing.

  • Borough of Manhattan Community College, “Writing the Scholarship Essay/Personal Statement”

    The Borough of Manhattan Community College has categorized each part of the scholarship essay process and elaborated on them to paint the best picture on how to succeed at writing scholarship essays.

  • Practicing essay-writing and looking at the successful essays of those who came before you are two great ways to prepare for writing scholarship and admissions essays.

  • College Basics, “Seven Ways to Make your College Essay Stand Out” published a list of Seven Ways to Make Your College Essay Stand Out and it’s an effective tool to help really give a prospective college student’s essay the “pop” it needs to succeed.

  • Study Guides & Strategies, “The Essay Exam”

    Study Guides and Strategies’ section, “The Essay Exam” points out the most crucial things to analyze on a college admissions essay before submitting.

  • UNC Writing Center, “Essay Exams”

    The Writing Center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides a wealth of knowledge to help students create a well-rounded essay.

  • Essay-Writing Guide

    David Gauntlett assembled a guide to writing essays in communications and media studies while at the University of Leeds. A pdf form of the document is available for download.

  • Exeter, “A brief guide to writing essays”

    The University of Exeter assembled a very informative “brief guide to writing essays” and it provides a bunch of introductory material for building a better understanding of effective writing methods.

  • Massey University OWLL: The Online Writing and Learning Link

    Massey University, located in New Zealand, emphasizes the best way to go about writing online, as well as the most effective ways to learn via the internet. Their resources are incredibly useful for those interested in improving their essay quality.

  • How To Write An Essay

    Kimberly Chapman breaks writing an essay down into 8 parts to paint the best picture for essay writing, no matter which part help is needed on.

  • Scholarship Junkies, “Common Essay Questions 101”

    Scholarship Junkies’ “Common Essay Questions 101” section helps students not only with fixes to their essays by underlining errors commonly seen, but also with scholarship advice and helping students understand who they are better.

  • Tom Davis, “How to Write an Essay” provides tips on “How to Write an Essay” from Tom Davis and the format is broken down into numbered sections with bullet points breaking down subsections to easily locate the area a student may be having trouble with.

  • Guide to Writing a Basic Essay

    LK Livingston’s “Guide to Writing a Basic Essay” is great for analyzing different parts to essays, with sections focusing on improving the topic, outline, thesis, body, introduction, conclusion, and more.

  • Christine Bauer-Ramazani’s “Outline Format for a Five-Paragraph Essay”

    Christine Bauer-Ramazani uses this excellent outline with her ESL students when teaching proper essay structure. Bauer-Ramazani teaches in the Applied Linguistics department of Saint Michael’s College.

  • AFS-USA BP Scholarship Essays

    The AFS Intercultural Programs partnered with British Petroleum (BP) to create a scholarship, which includes quality essay prompts, useful even to those not interested in the scholarship.

  • Generic Scholarship Essay prompt

    The Generic Scholarship Essay Prompt is designed to help students preparing to apply for scholarships by creating tools to help refine their scholarship essay writing skill set. While it may seem like a natural extension from essay writing, scholarship essays many times require a more sculpted vision of the student’s goals and academic endeavors.

  • College Blog, “My Ten Favorite College Essay Prompts”

    Kris Hintz from College Blog lists his ten favorite college essay prompts, which should give students a good picture of what to expect when applying to college, as well as a good basis for practicing.

  • Common Application Board of Directors 2013-2014 Essay Prompts

    Common App is what is used by a large number of universities so that students may create applications and apply to a variety of schools, without having to repeatedly go through the menial tasks of filling in simple information. Their essay announcement gives insight as to what students can begin to expect as of August 1st, 2013 on the Common App Essay.

  • Art History Rules, “Essay Structure Guidelines”

    Art History Rules’ published Essay Structure Guidelines to equip students with a concise vision of how to formulate their essays, including outlines.

  • De Montfort University, “A Basic Essay Structure”

    De Montfort University’s insight into basic essay structure gives students a breakdown of how to approach writing essays through intuitive steps and links.

  • Penn State’s Handbook on Writing Personal Statements Online

    Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ page has section devoted entirely to writing personal statements online, a very important part of the process in applying for scholarships.

  • Strategy Coach Essay Composer

    Strategy Coach has an Essay Composer for helping students break down, point-by-point, the arc of writing a proficient essay.

  • Easy Essay

    Easy Essay helps students with their essays through easy-to-use steps and resources.

  • Stanford Graduate School of Business Essay Questions for Class of 2015

    Stanford’s Graduate School of Business provides the essay questions for prospective students. The questions underline the larger goals a student must have when preparing for graduate school.

  • Chapman University Essay Prompt Definitions and Steps in Answering

    Chapman University’s Essay Prompt Definitions break down commonly used words from essay prompts so that students understand the proper way to approach different subjects.

  • College Essay Coach

    College Essay Coach walks students start-to-finish through writing essays and giving professional guidance to those in need.

  • College Essay Samples

    College Essay Samples is a great resource for looking at examples of admissions essays and also a variety of degree-specific essays.

  • Graphic Organizers for Essay Writing

    The Nearest Name has essay tools to simplify the process for plotting ideas. With a Main Idea Organizer, Essay Outline, and Organizational Patterns, the resources are easy to use and helpful.

  • Harvard Writing Center

    Harvard Writing Center helps students’ essay writing by supplying a wide number of in-depth walkthroughs for the writing process. Categories like “How to Read an Assignment” and “Developing a Thesis” are a few examples of the range in topics as well.

  • Ms Lenihan’s Essay Tools

    Ms. Lenihan’s Essay Tools gives you a list of great resources for writing an essay. It includes links to help with thesis statements as well.

  • Scribd Essay Writing Kit

    The Scribd Essay Writing Kit is a very comprehensive tool for writing and includes printable tools for helping improve writing skills.

  • University of Leicester, “Essay writing diagnostic”

    University of Leicester’s “Essay Writing Diagnostic” helps students identify the best course of action for writing an essay by first outlining 4 different methods and breaking down the best approach to writing the essay.

  • Hillsborough Community College, “Essay Tools”

    The “College Tools” page from Hillsborough Community College helps students with critical thinking essays, as well as general education essays, and supplements these by providing information to reinforce essay rubric procedures.

  • Writing Essays

    The Writing Essays page from Time 4 Writing has categories to give overviews of the introduction, thesis, and conclusion of an essay in easy-to-understand terms.

  • Colleges and scholarship awarding organizations get so many applicants that it would be nearly impossible to discern who was most deserving of their award or admission without asking for a written statement. Writing about yourself can be difficult, but learning to communicate something unique and positive about your character in the relatively small space of an essay is an important skill for all manner of scholarship and college applications.

    There were so many great resources for students trying to write essays for both admission and scholarships, that it was hard to limit it to just 100. We’ve gathered together 10 more which offer fantastic insight for students. Writing scholarship essays, as well as admissions essays, proves to be a great source of stress for students given their importance. These 10 additional resources can offer even more tools that help relieve some of the stress and anxiety. Stress-free essay writing is the best kind of essay writing!

    1. Bates Admissions College Essay Guide – This site is helpful to students because it offers great tips on how to write the essays that can be the most stressful: the college essay. This site offers 10 tips to make the wiring process a little easier, and to relieve some of the stress associated with it, as well.
    2. 15 Killer Tips on How to Write a Scholarship Essay – EduJama is a site that provides students with 15 tips on how to write the best essay possible. It provides students with a format to follow, which is aimed to aid in making the wiring process clearer and less ambiguous.
    3. Writing an Effective Scholarship Essay – This site is aimed at aiding students in writing their scholarship essay. Offering a list of tips, as well as a list of potential questions (from experts), it is a great resource to help students prepare for the important essay.
    4. Scholarship Essay Writing Tips – This is another site that is aimed at aiding students in writing their all-important scholarships essay. Providing a guide to the approach of the essay, as well as “polishing tips,” this is a useful tool for students who are in the process of writing their essays.
    5. Disabled World’s Guide to Writing a Scholarship Essay – This effective resource offers students a plethora of ideas, concerning what their topic choice can be. The site also provides tips once a topic has been chosen. It is an excellent tool for students not sure about their topic choice for their scholarship essays.
    6. College Application Essays Help Lesson One: Tackling the Question – This site is a useful resource for students due to its flexibility. The site offers different links to help students, depending on the type of essay being written. The site offers common application questions, as well as sample questions to help prepare students to write their essay.
    7. Scholarship Podcast Tips – This is a podcast transcript that allows students to hear/read what the essay process is all about. It is useful, in that it gives students a clear idea of what is expected, as well as tips on writing the essay itself.
    8. How To Write An Essay – This site is a useful tool for students because it offers step-by-step aid with writing the essay. From building a pre-outline to polishing and refining the finished products, this resource aids students in every step of their process, thus ensuring they are on the right track.
    9. Read, Write Think: Essay Map – This site provides an excellent resource for students. Once a topic is generated, the essay map then takes students through the process of writing each component of the essay, in real time. This is an effective tool because it teaches students the proper flow and organization of an essay, thus making it easier to do in the future.
    10. Foundation of Roanoke Valley Application and Essay Tips – Offering a variety of resources for students, this tool is effective in making the essay writing process easier. From tips on following deadlines, to scholarship application instructions, this resource will effectively aid students in navigating through this process.


    'Tis the season for applying to college, and everyone and his mother have got the "How Do I Write My Application Essay Blues."

    The killer personal statement, now a hot commodity, may be the most popular literary genre on our virtual shelves, at least between July and November of every year. The genre long ago spawned dozens of how-to guides, but our obsession has only recently seeped into popular culture, with sightings in the movies (Admission, Flight) and this fall, it's the subject of a major novel, Lacy Crawford's Early Decision, written by former essay coach to the well-to-do.

    This has also been a banner year for the essay because of big changes to the Common Application and the publicity that ignited -- some negative, some positive (see my responses to both here). Whether good or bad, the focus on all of it only reinforces How Much the Essay Matters.

    Adding to the buzz has been the increasingly crowded Twitterverse, the place where everyone -- frustrated students, university admissions departments, officials at the Common Application -- goes to kvetch, ask questions, and/or to confess.

    My own confessions are longer than 140 characters.

    Confession No. 1. No one has ever asked me to write an essay for her child. Nor has anyone even hinted that this is what she wanted. The students I work with want to write their own essays, and parents often want, not a ghostwriter, but a buffer, someone outside the family to impose some structure and discipline on the process of getting the essays done. You may have heard: children-on-the-verge-of-adulthood usually don't want to spend any more time with their parents than necessary, especially when there is a risk of "nagging."

    Parents often say to me, "There is absolutely no way I can work with my son/daughter on these essays." What follows is one of these lines: "Our relationship is frayed enough. This would be impossible." Or -- a brighter narrative: "My son and I have a great relationship, and I don't want to ruin it."

    But I get plenty of other inquiries: parents whose first language isn't English and those who can tell that the child's essay isn't up to snuff but don't know how to tell them to fix it. Said one mother: "My son's English teacher said his essay is fine, but I know it's not."

    Confession No 2. I'm not ashamed of what I do. There are critiques of essay coaches from admissions officers, guidance counselors, purists (of many stripes), and those who aren't familiar with what some of us do.

    Coaches come in all shapes and sizes, and some of us wear a number of hats, from volunteers at public schools and community centers (take a look at this terrific application bootcamp program in Chicago) to those who are handmaidens of the rich. Main character Ann, the high-end coach in Lacy Crawford's novel, does pro-bono work on Saturdays, and charges her other clients $5000 for a consulting package. Like some psychotherapists (though few doctors, lawyers, or accountants), I have a sliding scale.

    Confession No. 3. I wasn't surprised to hear on This American Life that only one in every 20 application essays the admissions officer reads at Georgia Tech is any good. A fair number of my clients are weak writers -- at least when they start out. I put them through paces. I make them rewrite many times. I force them to think - and sometimes realize that I'm the first person who has asked this of them. I suggest things to read, and have occasionally bestowed gifts: a copy of The New Yorker for a bright girl who had never heard of it and needed writing help, and multiple copies of Sin and Syntax, a grammar and usage book that is a delight to read.

    The vast majority of students I work with have never had any writing instruction beyond what happens in a group, and it shows. Critical thinking is essential to good writing. This too is an alien concept to many students.

    But I've also worked with top student writers at top schools, public and private, including students who edit and write for the school newspaper and literary magazine. They may be great at writing movie reviews for the paper or analyzing poems for English class, but they're sometimes stumped on how to write college application essays, because there is nothing they've ever written to prepare them for this genre -- and its many offshoots among the dozens of supplementary essays that come up. Of course they have teachers and guidance counselors who can and do help. For many that is sufficient. For others, who might have eight or ten essays, there might not be a teacher available.

    I know that there are dozens of books to read on the subject, filled with wise and sometimes conflicting advice from former deans of admission, such as, "Be yourself; Don't show your essay to your parents, your friends, or a coach, but only to a teacher; If your Mom is an English teacher, ask her; Read your essay aloud to a friend, etc."

    My experience is that most students don't read these books; their mothers might, if they're bookish and ambitious. The kids I see aren't working with their mothers, but there must be plenty of students who are, and plenty who do the essays on their own, and have no problem with the command: Just be yourself. I read their joyful tweets announcing that they've finished their essays.

    Confession No. 4. I have no problem admitting that having an essay coach gives the student an advantage. So does having parents who are educated and affluent; so does attending private school, being tutored, taking music lessons, going to specialized summer camps, being a star athlete, or coming from a legacy family. Having parents who are writers or editors can be a huge advantage in writing the essay. A top student in rural Idaho applying to Harvard might have a geographic advantage.

    And some in this high-stakes competition will insist that it's a big advantage to be a poor minority student, as long as you're not Asian. In Early Decision, there's a wealthy, bitter couple with a disappointing son who give voice to the view that if only their son were "an exotic person with no money," he'd be an Ivy League shoo-in.

    Recently, a Chinese-born student, adopted by a white American family, wrote and asked me if she should conceal the fact that she's Chinese on her Common Application, since her guidance counselor told her that being Chinese would be her "downfall" in applying to college. (I suggested that Be yourself might be a better way to go, and perhaps to find a place somewhere in the application to mention her history.)

    I'm not sure there's one moral to all of these stories, one blanket takeaway -- except what money managers always tell their clients: Diversify. Don't put all your money in stocks even though you might get the highest returns: you might also lose big.

    Don't put all your eggs in one college basket. Whether you're a parent or a student, don't fall into the trap of thinking that there is only one college or one group of colleges where you/your child will be happy.

    Confession No. 5. These days, my favorite Twitter hashtag is #CommonApp, and I spend more time than I should reading college essay forums. My favorite recent tweet, from a student at Tufts: "My college wants to publish my Common App essay in an admissions magazine. I'm in actual tears. I'm crying."

    And my favorite forum exchange is a conversation from last year about the Common App essay: A student writes: "its due in like 2 weeks and I have zero idea what to write...I spent most of my time on the internet watching youtubes, browsing forums, so my life is not that interesting to write about..." A student answers: "if you think your life isn't interesting it wouldn't be that hard to make something up if you're a good writer."

    Please visit my website and blog at Don't Sweat the Essay, for advice, news, and occasional gossip.

    Elizabeth Benedict is a bestselling novelist, journalist, coach and editor of two anthologies. She's taught writing for more than 20 years at major colleges and universities, and runs Don't Sweat the Essay.

    Follow Elizabeth Benedict on Twitter:

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