Q & A with The College Essay Guy

Ethan Sawyer (@CollegeEssayGuy) was the guest on #CampusChat, Wednesday, June 24, 2015 and shared his:

college essayParent’s Guide to the College Essay

Ethan’s Q&A with us follows. For a complete transcript, click on: #CampusChat 6/24 Parent’s Guide to the College Essay.

Q1 Why do colleges put so much emphasis on the essay part of the application? #CampusChat

A1 The essay breathes life & color into the application and gives the numbers context. It’s also the last thing you control. #CampusChat

A1 On the one hand, the essay alone won’t get you into Harvard. (You need amazing grades and test scores to have a shot.)… #CampusChat

A1 …But if a college is deciding between two students w/similar grades and test scores, the essays can make the difference. #CampusChat


Q2 Why do students dread the college essay? #CampusChat

A2 I think students have a lot of misconceptions about the essay—that it’s like an AP Lang paper, for example. But it’s not! #CampusChat

A2 In my experience, the tone of a college essay is more like a conversation with a smart friend. #CampusChat

A2 But, honestly, most of my students don’t dread the college essay—they actually enjoy the process and learn a lot! #CampusChat


Q3 When should students start thinking about the college essay? #CampusChat

A3 Now! My favorite brainstorming question is: What’s your deepest story? #CampusChat

A3 Here’s my favorite brainstorm exercise,The Objects Exercise, to help discover that story: http://bit.ly/1oysQC6  #CampusChat

A3 My second favorite brainstorm exercise is the The Values Exercise, which helps uncover the “so what”: http://bit.ly/U5BONC #CampusChat


Q4 Is there a certain way students should structure their college essay? #CampusChat

A4 One option is the Narrative Structure, which is to tell the story like a movie. http://bit.ly/1pXJCzI #CampusChat

A4 Another option is the Montage structure, which is to connect events & qualities using a common theme, or focusing lens. http://bit.ly/1vXzLYd #CampusChat

A4 Some essays go deep (life-changing moment), some essays wide (lots of variety & moments). A great essay does both. #CampusChat


Q5 What tips do you have for revising and editing the college essay? #CampusChat

A5 Five steps to revising: #1. Put the first sentence of each paragraph in bold. #2. Read the bold sentences aloud. #CampusChat

A5 Revising Step #3. Write a new outline in which all the lines flow together. #4 Rewrite the paragraphs to match. #CampusChat

A5 Revising Step #5. Go for a walk, then come back and read the new draft aloud. Repeat. http://bit.ly/1vXzLYd #CampusChat

A5 Three more revision tips: 1. Be patient. 2. Ask for help. 3. Keep writing. You’ll get there. #CampusChat


Q6 What tactics do you use when helping students with essays? #CampusChat

A6 I begin with Myers-Briggs personality typing to find out how a student processes information and directs his/her energy. #CampusChat

A6 I then teach the basics of screenwriting structure: http://www.collegeessayguy.com/webinar-july-2015 #CampusChat

A6 And throughout the process I do a whole lot of listening. 🙂 (Without a doubt the most important part.) #CampusChat


Q7 What role should parents take in the college essay process? #CampusChat

A7 Ooh: I’ve got a whole page for that! http://www.collegeessayguy.com/parents  #CampusChat

A7 Here are 8 ways parents can support students through the college process: http://tinyurl.com/pda98ys #CampusChat

A7 Here are 6 Six Qualities of a Successful College Parent: http://tinyurl.com/omovweb #CampusChat


Q8 What topics would you tell students to avoid when writing the essay? #CampusChat

A8 Honestly, no essay topic is off-limits. Every story is potentially cliche, or potentially genius. It all depends on how it’s told. #CampusChat

A8 It’s interesting, though: I don’t find that students who go through my process write cliche essays. #truestory #CampusChat

A8 The “mission trip” and sports are common topics, but here’s how to deal with those: http://tinyurl.com/pmqbnul #CampusChat

A8 Even religion can be an okay topic, as long as the student focuses on the values s/he has gained. #CampusChat


Q9 What makes a great college essay? #CampusChat 

A9 Quality #1: The story is unusual in either content, structure or both. #CampusChat

A9 #2. The essay needs a “wow” moment. #3. The ending should be both surprising and inevitable.#CampusChat

A9 #4. The ending makes the reader do a little bit of work. #CampusChat

A9 Note that these aren’t my tips for ALL essays, just common qualities I’ve seen in amazing essays. #CampusChat

A9 Here are Four Qualities of an Amazing College Essay: http://tinyurl.com/ozano3o #CampusChat


Q10 What would be your best advice for students and parents about the essay?#CampusChat

A10 The most important question to answer in the essay is “so what.” And not just 1-2 times, but 6-7 times. #CampusChat

A10 Ask yourself at the end of the essay, “Did I clearly demonstrate 6-9 values?” If only 1-2 are clear, keep going. #CampusChat

A10 Don’t wait; start now. If interested, my pay-what-you-can webinar series runs July 13-17: http://tinyurl.com/pjgeq7j #CampusChat

Click here to inquire about becoming a guest on #CampusChat