Kwasi Enin Personal Essay Definition

Why Kids CAN Write–If You Teach Them How

by j9robinson | Aug 3, 2017 | Essay Myths, Uncategorized, Why Essays Matter | 0 Comments

Students Stress Over College App Essays

Because for the First Time They Want to Write

But Realize They Don’t Know How

The New York Times ran an article yesterday called “Why Kids Can’t Write.”

Great piece, but I didn’t agree with the title.

They can write. (Click bait.)

However, as the article chronicled at length, most students have not been taught how to write. The writing experts debated if the problem was at the mechanics end (lack of instruction on writing rules) or the other end with creative writing (lack of opportunity for personal expression through writing.)

I don’t think it’s an either-or issue. read more…

Are You a Hillary with your College Application Essay?

by j9robinson | Jul 29, 2016 | Be Likable, How to Stand Out, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

As I’ve been watching the Democratic national convention this past week, I realized how much election speeches are like college application essays.

Both are sales pitches. Both candidates and college applicants want something—badly!

Candidates want votes. You want to get admitted. read more…

How Brittany Stinson Wrote Her Costco Essay

by j9robinson | May 12, 2016 | Sample Essays, Uncategorized, What Makes a Great Essay? | 1 Comment

A Q&A With The Author of the Viral Costco Essay

Last month, Brittany Stinson learned she got into five Ivy League colleges, as well as Stanford and many other top schools.

When a newspaper reporter asked her to share her college application essay, Brittany didn’t think twice.

Within hours, her essay went viral. read more…

How to Write a College Application Essay: In 3 Easy Steps

by j9robinson | Feb 19, 2016 | Essay Cheat Sheet, Jumpstart Guide!, Uncategorized | 6 Comments


After working with thousands of students from all over the world on writing the dreaded college application essay for the last eight years, I’ve finally been able to boil down the process to three simple steps.

Yes, just three steps.

If you follow these steps, I believe you will be able to craft a college application essay that will give you an edge in the admissions game.


Each step makes sure that you share information about yourself that will make your essay effective and help you stand out from the competition. read more…

Warning: 5 Ways to Blow Your College Application Essay

by j9robinson | Feb 16, 2016 | Final checklist, Tips, Uncategorized, What Makes a Great Essay? | 0 Comments


How to Avoid College Application Essay
Booby Traps

No matter where you are with writing your college application essay, you should double check that you are on the right track.

It’s way too easy to inadvertently torpedo your chances of writing an essay that gives you an edge in the admissions game. read more…

Top 5 Myths About College App Essays

by j9robinson | Sep 22, 2015 | Essay Myths, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

 You Don’t Need Tragedy to Write
a Standout College Admissions Essay!


This is the time of year that the frenzy surrounding college admissions starts to grow.

Early decision deadlines are just weeks away.

Students who put off writing their college application essays are running out of excuses—and time.

Those who finally sat down to figure out the Common Application are shocked at the number of additional supplemental essays they need to pound out.

Compounding the looming sense of doom are some of the myths about these essays. read more…

“If you want to ‘show’ something, ask, ‘Can you prove it with an example?'”

Read more

Excerpt from New Writing Survival Kit: Show AND Tell

by j9robinson | Mar 30, 2015 | Essay Hell's Writing Guides, Show AND Tell, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized, Writing Advice | 0 Comments

 One of the Hot Writing Tips
for College Application Essays

I’m excited to share one of the 50-plus writing tips, techniques and ideas from my just-published guide: Essay Hell’s Writing Survival Kit, now available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon. This one is from Chapter Three, called Show the Way.

In many of the writing tips and advice, I draw helpful examples from the sample college application essays written by students at the back of the book. In the digital Kindle version, there are live links (but they won’t work in this excerpt, sorry!). read more…

Listen to Me Talk About Writing Great College App Essays!

by j9robinson | Nov 20, 2014 | Uncategorized, What Makes a Great Essay? | 0 Comments

My friend, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, who is a national expert on helping families afford higher education, interviewed me recently about how to write standout college application essays. If you are struggling to figure out how to pay for your college or university, Lynn has the best insider information and resources, including her best-selling book and popular online courses.

I believe one thing that many students and parents don’t realize is that a strong essay not only can help you get into a competitive school, but it can also help you score merit scholarship money. This isn’t true for all schools, especially large universities, but many liberal arts colleges use the essays to determine who they want at their school and then work to help them afford it—including offering money. read more…

Great Student; Not a Great Essay

by j9robinson | Oct 20, 2014 | Uncategorized, What Makes a Great Essay? | 0 Comments

I’ve been meaning to write about the hubbub around the high school student who got accepted into all eight Ivy League schools last April. It was an amazing and well-deserved accomplishment for Kwasi Enin, a 17-year-old from Long Island, New York.

Because of his feat, the media and some college experts have held up his college application essay as one of the main reasons he was accepted. And it has been championed now as an example of a great essay.

I do not agree with this at all. I thought his essay was mediocre at best. (Read Kwasi’s essay and see for yourself.) read more…

5 Reasons College App Essays Don’t Suck

by j9robinson | Sep 8, 2014 | Uncategorized, Why Essays Matter | 0 Comments

If you are struggling with your college application essay right about now, you might be cursing the entire process.

And I don’t blame you.

You’re supposed to think up some fascinating topic that will grab the attention of those bored-to-tears admissions officers and help your application stand out among the thousands of other students vying for the same spot at your dream college.

All the experts tell you “Just be yourself!” or “Tell a story.”

While they are right, it’s totally normal that you don’t have much confidence in how to do that in 650 words or less.

Most high school students have not been taught how to write a narrative (story-telling style) personal essay.

And to write good ones takes a lot of practice.  read more…

Top 5 College App Essay Writing Fears Debunked

by j9robinson | Jun 9, 2014 | Top Essay Fears, Uncategorized | 0 Comments


Over the years, I’ve heard almost every imaginable complaint and concern about writing college application essays.

Like most common fears, they are almost all in your head.

That doesn’t mean they don’t feel real.

But if you can realize that a lot of your success will depend on not psyching yourself out, and staying calm and focused, you can then get to work.

Find a great topic.

Map out a writing plan.

Pound out a rough draft.

Before you know it, you will have a knock-out essay! read more…

Letterman’s Top 10 Ways To Make Your College Application Essay Stand Out—and Mine

by j9robinson | Apr 24, 2014 | How to Stand Out, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

If you are a Letterman fan, you know that I am supposed to list these college application essay tips backwards, and end with No. 1. But I prefer chronological order. You can watch the YouTube video, where he has the young man, Kwasi Enin, who was accepted to all eight ivies this year, count them down on his show. Some media have tried to pin Kwasi’s success on his essay—but that is pure conjecture (Kwasi is amazing on many levels). Anyway, if you are college bound, you might get a kick out of watching the whole thing.

If you are shy on time, I wrote out Letterman’s list here. And then I wrote my own list below. His may be funny; but mine works!

David Letterman’s Top 10 Ways to Make Your College Application Essay Stand Out

1. In the part where it says, “Office Use Only,” write: “Accept.”

2. Personally give to dean at home in the middle of the night.

3. If you’ve been to space, mention that you’ve been to space. read more…

What Makes a College Application Essay “Great”?

by j9robinson | Apr 16, 2014 | Uncategorized, What Makes a Great Essay?, Writing Advice | 1 Comment

Are you starting to think about writing your college application essay?

If so, you need to know what makes a great essay to know how to start brainstorming and writing your own.

You can often recognize a “great one” when you read or hear it—but it’s more difficult to explain what exactly made it that way.

Here’s my attempt to list the features that comprise a great college application essay.

Unlike other essays, these have a very specific goal that you must always factor in when you write a great one: To help your college application land in the “Yes!” pile.

Many of the elements of an effective college admissions essay further that goal.

A GRRRREATTT college application essay:

1. “Grabs” the readers at the start. I believe one of the best ways to do this is to start with an anecdote (real-life incident). Something happens.

2. Usually is written in a narrative (story-telling/memoir-like/slice-of-life) style drawing off real-life experiences.

3. Reveals a specific core or “defining” quality (creative, resourceful, fierce, resilient, driven, etc.) about the writer, rather than trying to describe many qualities. This is how to focus the essay. read more…

How Will They Dub You?

by j9robinson | Jul 27, 2013 | Choosing a Topic, How to Stand Out, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Everyone is looking for that magic topic for their college application essay that will help them jump out from the essay pile, and shout, “Yes, that’s me!”

I’ve written a lot about how you can go about landing on that unique topic.

Here’s one way to see if you have found it or not.

In my mind, you want to be the student who writes an essay that captures something original, unexpected or poignant about yourself, which an admissions officer would then use to dub you with a related phrase.

What does that mean? read more…

Where’s Waldo? and Creativity in College Essays

by j9robinson | Dec 20, 2012 | Choosing a Topic, Mundane Topics, Personal Statements, The "Unexpected", Uncategorized | 0 Comments


College Admissions Essays

It’s Official: Get Creative!

Colleges tell students that they want their essays to show them what sets them apart from the pack and what makes them unique. Yet most of the college application essay prompts do a poor job of helping students find topics that help them reveal their true personalities and character. TheLos Angeles Times just wrote an article about how some colleges are finally crafting prompts that do a better job of encouraging students to feel comfortable taking a risk and showing their idiosyncrasies and quirks, rather than showcasing only their accomplishments and hardships. The main point of the article: Get creative!

This is an exciting trend, in my opinion, one I’ve encouraged for years now. My advice is to try to write about these more creative topics even when answering prompts that still aren’t creative. (Such as the list of Common App prompts, especially now that there will not be the Topic of Choice option.) I have lots of tips and advice all over my blog on how to find these types of topics.  The point is that college admissions folks are starting to change their prompts because they are sick of reading about the same topics where students recount mission trips and sports victories. Take a risk. Get creative. Tell a story. Write about something mundane, rather than impressive. read more…

Twilight as a Topic? No Way!

by j9robinson | Oct 19, 2012 | Choosing a Topic, Mundane Topics, The "Unexpected", Twilight as a Topic?, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

College Admissions Essays:

Finding topics in unlikely places


I would never have believed that writing about the Twilight series could be a super essay topic–not in a million years. But below, I’m going to share how one of my brightest students landed on Edward Cullen as the perfect topic during one of my recent “Jumpstart” tutoring sessions.  And how it’s going to be a brilliant essay!

I’ve been meaning to write about the hubbub around the high school student who got accepted into all eight Ivy League schools last April. It was an amazing and well-deserved accomplishment for Kwasi Enin, a 17-year-old from Long Island, New York.

Because of his feat, the media and some college experts have held up his college application essay as one of the main reasons he was accepted. And it has been championed now as an example of a great essay.

I do not agree with this at all. I thought his essay was mediocre at best. (Read Kwasi’s essay and see for yourself.)

I believe Kwasi’s acceptances had more to do with his perfect GPA, 2,250 SAT scores, the 11 AP classes he took, his impressive musical and other talents. And it’s also true that his essay certainly did not keep him out of any of these schools (since he got in them all!), and might have helped him get in.

But I think it’s wrong to assume that this essay had a big part in his acceptance. It’s just not that good. At least in my opinion. It reminded me of the type of writing many adults and English teachers believe would make a good essay.

My main concern is that students will look to this essay as an example of a great essay, and try to emulate it.

Again, I’m not out to dis Kwasi or in any way imply that he is undeserving of his acceptances into these stellar schools. Who wouldn’t want this amazing guy?

But I’m all about writing standout college application essays, and trying to make sure that they help students get into their top-choice schools. I believe students should try to write essays that are engaging to read—especially from the start—and that carry their unique voice and reveal something that sets them apart from their peers. (This is especially true for students trying for their “reach” schools.)

I will spare you a blow-by-blow analysis of Kwasi’s essay. It certainly wasn’t terrible, and overall was earnest and heartfelt, and had some nice lines.


However, I think his topic was way too broad—“love of music”—and Kwasi tried to cover too much ground about himself, everything from his love of music in all things, how it linked to his leadership skills and even his career goal in medicine. I believe it could have had more impact and been more engaging to read if he had focused his topic. Instead of writing about all things music, he could have picked one specific part of his love of music and expanded upon that.

The worst thing about this essay, to me, was that it was on the dull side. It made all sort of general points that I didn’t find that interesting. He did bolster some of his points with specific examples, and that helped. But overall, it was written with a lot of passive voice and broad, flowery statements.

While I think it’s important to express what you think, feel and believe in these essays, I also think they need a sharp focus and lots of examples to back up general points. Otherwise, they end up on the bland side.

With Kwasi, I would have wanted to get a sense of his personality through the essay, and to hear his authentic voice. There was nothing in this essay that made him stand out from the other zillion students who love music, at least in my mind.

Enough picking on Kwasi. Again, a huge congratulations to him and his future at Yale this fall! But if you are working on your essay, I wouldn’t use this one for inspiration or as a guide on writing your own. Be bold. Pick topics that haven’t been written about a lot. Focus them to make a specific point about yourself.

You may not be as brilliant as Kwasi, but I think you have a good chance of writing a better college application essay!

Read some Sample Essays I believe are better.










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