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Write Your College Essay in Less Than a Day Paperback – September 15, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0345517272 ISBN-10: 034551727X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034551727X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345517272
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #886,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

The author understands the fear and urge to procrastinate. After all, she has helped thousands of students through the college application process, since she began advising students more than 12 years ago.

In addition to writing two books on college admissions (What Colleges Don’t Tell You: and Other Parents Don’t Want You to Know, and also What High Schools Don’t Tell You), Elizabeth Wissner-Gross has been leading successful Write-Your-Essay-in-One-Day workshops and speaking at public and private schools across the United States. She has appeared on the Today Show (NBC), The Morning Show with Mike & Juliet (Fox News), I on NY (WPXN), and been heard on Martha Stewart radio (Sirius) and popular radio programs throughout the United States. She is a regular keynote speaker on CollegeWeekLive (online semi-annual college fair that attracts more than 35,000 viewers/participants), and has appeared on panels sponsored by The New York Times, Newsday, The World Journal (Chinese), and the Columbia/Princeton Club of New York. In addition, she has been featured in articles in The New York Times, Newsday, USA Today, The World Journal, and many other publications throughout the United States.

As a private educational consultant, advocate, and strategist, she has helped her students win admission into the colleges of their dreams–even in these most competitive times–by working with individual students to help them develop their own academic interests and passions, and then having them write about their experiences. She advocates encouraging the individuality of each student and celebrating the gifts, talents, and diverse contributions that she believes every student has to offer.

Elizabeth Wissner-Gross graduated from Barnard College, where she studied Political Science and Education and graduated cum laude in 1975. She went on to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and received her MS in 1976, and then pursued additional graduate study at UCLA. She worked as a writer and editor at the Daily News of Los Angeles, Associated Press, and Newsday, taught journalism at New York area colleges and graduate programs, and has had articles published in hundreds of newspapers nationally and internationally including The New York Times, Boston Herald, and Los Angeles Times. She resides on Long Island, NY and in Connecticut. She has two sons–both attended MIT undergraduate and Harvard for PhDs.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1   Start with the Guidelines (15 Minutes) 

  Don't Worry about the Topic Yet- First You Need to Know the Rules  

Before you set out to write the essay, you need to know what the competitive colleges are looking for-what to write and what not to write-so you don't waste your time writing essays that will get you instantly rejected or deferred. In this chapter, you'll find most of the major rules. Read through all of them. This is really important, and it will take you only 15 minutes. After reading the rules, you'll find some sample essays-both good examples and bad. This will help you to see what colleges want and don't want. You'll notice that most of the sample essays in this book are shortened to save you time reading (your essay will be longer). You'll also notice that we keep referring to "Dreamschool College." That's the name of our pretend college in this book-the college we're all aiming for. And in case you're wondering, the mini essays used in this book are all based on composites and variations of actual student essay drafts. The following rules are listed in alphabetical order in case you want to refer to them quickly on another day. 

  NEGATIVE RULES   (Or What to Avoid Writing, if You Don't Want to Get Rejected Based on Your Essay)  

RULE 1: ADVERSITIES.Do not write about adversities that aren't adverse. If you're going to write an essay about how you have faced a risk or an adversity, make sure it's really a hardship. Not getting a brand new car for your sixteenth birthday is not an adversity. Nor is having parents who won't let you hang out with your friends on a school night, or who insist that you only attend adult-supervised parties.  

RULE 2: ARTSY SUBSTITUTIONS.Do not send a poem or drawing or photo in place of an essay. If the college asks you for an essay, they want to see an essay.  

RULE 3: BAD-MOUTHING.Don't write mean-spirited things about other people. Don't talk of "hating" this one or that one. Don't write in your application that you're smarter than everyone else at school, or that your principal is irresponsible, or that the guidance counselor is inexperienced, or that your whole town doesn't value education, or that your journalism teacher doesn't understand the First Amendment, or that the literary magazine adviser wouldn't know a good poem if she saw one, or that your science teacher plays favorites. High school politics should stay at high school. Don't expect sympathy from a college admissions committee.  

RULE 4: BIAS.Make sure that there is no prejudice or bias in your essays. Colleges are trying hard to achieve diversity and balance among their students and faculty. Claiming or even implying subtly that you don't like this or that group is a sure way to put yourself out of the running. Don't put down others for tattoos, body piercings, sexuality, unusual hair color, race, religion, appearance, disabilities, or nation of origin. Don't refer to other people in your essays as "nerds," "geeks," "dweebs," "twits," "brainiacs," "eggheads"-even if you think you're doing so endearingly, or even if you're referring to yourself or your best friend that way. (For more about diversity and bias, see Chapter 7, The Diversity Essay.)  

RULE 5: ESSAY SUBSTITUTIONS.Do not send an essay that you wrote for an English class or history class in place of the essay requested on the college application, even if you received an A on the essay, and even if your English teacher swears that it's the greatest work of literature he/she has ever seen from a high school student. Write a special essay specifically for the college application. (Exception: A very few colleges such as Union College have been known to request a graded high school paper in place of an essay.)  

RULE 6: FAMILY SECRETS.Do not write about your family secrets, your friends' secrets, or even your teachers' secrets. College applications should not be treated as your big chance to tattle on the world (e.g., my teacher smokes in the faculty bathroom; my uncle thinks New Mexico is part of Mexico; my cousin deserves to go to prison; my nemesis cheated on the exam; my classmates all got drunk at the party). Tattling on the people around you makes the reader wonder how you choose your friends-and it ends up looking bad for you-even if you describe at length how you're different from your friends. This is not the place to discuss how you don't fit in with your family, or how your parents or siblings embarrass you, or how you yearn to get away from the annoying habits or rules of your household.  

RULE 7: FITTING IN.Do not write an essay that presents you as "just like everyone else." Colleges are not looking to admit "everyone else." In fact, the most competitive colleges have been accepting fewer than 10 percent of applicants and rejecting "everyone else" (90 percent of applicants). Each college would prefer to find special students who specially want them for the programs and opportunities that they have to offer. In your essay, never refer to yourself as "a typical teenager" or even "a normal kid." If, for example, you choose to write about how you organized a car wash to raise money for hurricane victims, don't say, "...and we all washed cars, and we all got wet, and we all..." Tell the college, instead, what part you did that makes you stand out from the pack. Don't talk about the other kids in your "crowd" or "clique." Colleges are not necessarily impressed with kids who are confined to a crowd or clique.  

RULE 8: FOOLISH RISKS.Do not write about incidents that portray you as foolhardy: taking stupid or dangerous risks that make you look accident-prone (for example, the time I got into a sky-diving accident; when I accidentally set fire to the house; wrestling with a rattlesnake; the lesson I learned from my own driving accident, etc.).  

RULE 9: FRIENDS.Avoid writing about your friends and what they did and what they think. Instead, the colleges are interested in finding out more about you in your application. Focus solely on you. No, that won't make you sound self-centered or friendless. It will make you sound independent enough to be able to separate from your friends to attend college.  

RULE 10: GIMMICKS.Do not send a gimmick essay (e.g., "My name is M-E-L-I-S-S-A, M is for magnificent, E is for excellent, L is for lively, I is for intelligent, S is for smart, S is for sensible, and A is for academic." Another popular gimmick: "If I were a cookie, this would be my recipe: Lots of sugar, because I'm a very sweet person; a few nuts because I have a nutty sense of humor; a few chocolate chips made of deep chocolate, because I'm a deep thinker...") Gimmick essays sound flaky, clichéd, and unoriginal.  

RULE 11: LOSING.Underdogs may win elections sometimes, but nobody is attracted to a total loser. Do not write an essay about losing-even if someone tells you that "losing builds character," or "it's how you lose that counts," or that it "reflects modesty," or demonstrates that you are self-effacing. Yes, everybody loses sometimes, but that doesn't mean you should devote your essay to describing your losses. You don't want the admissions officers to feel sorry for you-they never accept people out of pity. When you are competing against thousands of students who are writing about their accomplishments, the student who writes an essay that reflects self-pity probably won't be the one that admissions officers are most eager to accept. It's okay to describe tough circumstances or a rough setting, but the focus of the essay should then be how you "made good" and overcame those seemingly insurmountable challenges.  

RULE 12: LUXURY VACATIONS.Do not discuss luxury resorts, cruises, sleepaway camps, or teen tours in your essays. Luxury vacations tend to be about pampering and passive activity, not character building. They're a big turnoff to admissions officers. One Ivy League admissions officer went as far as to advise students never to even mention luxury family vacations.  

"Does that mean we need to hide or disguise any wealth when writing a college application?" a few wealthy students have asked. No, I tell them. You don't need to pretend not to be rich. In difficult economic times, affluent applicants may in fact seem more appealing to colleges. But writing about luxury vacations may be easily viewed as flaunting your wealth-showing off. Possible exception: If you earned your wealth on your own, independent of your parents.  

RULE 13: LYING OR CHEATING.Don't copy someone else's essay-not even a sibling's, even if the sibling successfully used the essay to get into the same college you want to get into. Yes, colleges keep records; some admissions officers even remember essays. Also don't make up stories in your essays. Tell true stories about yourself. Always tell the truth; there's no need to embellish or make up anecdotes. Truthfulness is valued by colleges, as is honesty. (But don't even be tempted to write an essay about how you were honest when everyone else cheated, because that necessarily requires you to bad-mouth others, which is bad to do on your college application. See Rule 3.) 

  RULE 14: OLD NEWS.Do not write about an incident that happened more than four years ago, unless the incident involves you directly and has some national or international angle. For example, if you appeared on national TV to perform in a sitcom five years ago, it's okay to mention. If you made a solo violin debut at Carnegie Hall at the age of 12, it's fine to mention. If you starred in a major Hollywood movie at age 6, won a National Young Inventors Award at the age of 10, won or seriously competed in an Olympic or Junior Olympic sport, were personally invited by the president of the United States to dinner at the White House at age 8, had a nationally known choreographer review your work, or published an article in a major city newspaper at age 9-all of th...

More About the Author

Elizabeth Wissner-Gross has been studying educational strategies for more than 30 years, and has offered private consulting to families, schools, educational programs and school districts for the past decade. Before consulting, she worked as a professional journalist, writing and editing for Newsday, the Associated Press and the Daily News of Los Angeles. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times and other newspapers throughout the world. Her articles and columns have focused on children s media, family travel, educational daytrips, and extra-curricular education, as she explored new opportunities for her own two sons, Alex and Zach.
In addition to writing What Colleges Don't Tell You (Hudson Street Press/Penguin, 2006), she is also the author of Unbiased: Editing in a Diverse Society (Iowa State University, 1999), a resource for journalists and other communicators seeking to embrace fairness in their usage.
A graduate of Barnard College (where she studied Political Science and Education) and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she has taught college, graduate school, guest-lectured and led parent workshops for schools and community groups, and presented her work before national organizations including the National Association of Gifted Children.
She has been very actively involved in public education on Long Island, including chairing a school district parent committee on gifted and talented education for 15 years.
Elizabeth Wissner-Gross resides with her husband of 30 years, Sigmund Wissner-Gross, an attorney, in Great Neck, NY and Bloomfield, CT, Visit her blog at www.Whatcollegesdonttellyou.com

Customer Reviews

Really useful - gets to the point.
C. Saddul
You'll have to read both to determine which makes most sense for you and the schools of interest.
inbox1803
This book breaks down writing the college essay into very simple steps.
J.B.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By inbox1803 on February 19, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I usually try to preview books via interlibrary loan, but this one wasn't available so I took a chance based on others' reviews, and I'm glad I did. This book provides a clear template for writing an admissions essay that's easy to follow for a student who doesn't know where start or how to choose a topic. Not sure about the "in a day" part, but as a homeschooling parent, I will definitely pass this book on to my daughter as she begins the college application process. It provides a great framework of what to include in a college application essay. The book does not provide specific help on actual writing skills, just what to write about.

For specific writing skills, I recommend "Conquering the College Essay in 10 Easy Steps." It provides specific help in choosing a topic for a more story-oriented approach to the essay, and then how to actually go through the process of getting started, 1st draft, revisions, and final editing.

Both books have a lot to offer, and I'm glad we have both. Combined, they provide a solid, concise guide to what can be a mysterious process - offering topic advice and general narrative esssay-writing assistance. Although the authors' approaches to content are different (and each provides seemingly valid reasons for why they think their approach is correct), my student will use info and ideas from both books. You'll have to read both to determine which makes most sense for you and the schools of interest.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By scool_mom on September 29, 2009
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This book was an absolute God send for my daughter as she is getting her essays done for the colleges. The author not only talks about what is a good essay, but also shows us what is a bad essay and why and how to correct it. The information is practical and to the point. We found this book very helpful and would recommend it hightly to any student or parent that is looking to put in the best effort for college admissions.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J.B. on October 15, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book breaks down writing the college essay into very simple steps. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is getting started and this book helps you to know what to write about and how to organize your essay. It also has really interesting essay samples that are not intimidating at all. It shows examples of bad essays too, so you know what not to do. If you want to get your essay done, read this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By GreekMom on July 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
My normally critical teenage son actually gave a thumbs up and positive comments for this book. I read several college essay books and this is the one that I gave to my son when it came time to do the work. It is very straight forward and easy to read. The book is laid out like a workbook to brainstorm for ideas and rank them to ultimately choose the best topic for your personal statement. Of all the essay books that I read, this is the only one that outlines the criteria of what the essay will be graded on. Although the author concedes that every university's grading matrix varies, this is a very good starting point. If a kid doesn't know what s/he will be graded on, it's impossible to knock out a killer essay! I'm very glad that I found this book. I have been very impressed with all of the books by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By S. D. Marciano on August 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book is fantastic. Having researched her own children's success with college and graduate school admissions, Ms. Wissner-Gross is clearly drawing for her own experiences. She is also a highly successful and taunted college counselor -- so her credentials are impressive.

The book is simply spot on -- truly works like a charm and more than any other booked we have looked at, this one drains the stress out of the process and makes it all so doable.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A great, down to earth guide with wonderful rubrics and examples. I'd say it is by far the best book I've read regarding college application essays.
The only problem is it is outdated as it is the case for all books that were written before 2013.
The book goes over 6 old Common App (CA) essay prompts that are no longer valid. In CA, 5 new essay prompts have been issued last year (2013). Despite being outdated, the core concepts/explanations can be applied to any college application essay prompts.
Easy to understand and really well structured, it is definitely a book I would strongly advise every single one of my students to read.

I'd like to ask the author of this great book and its publisher to update it with new CA prompts as soon as possible.
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