Real College Essays That Work

By Melnik, Jan | Career Planning and Adult Development Journal, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Real College Essays That Work


Melnik, Jan, Career Planning and Adult Development Journal


Real College Essays That Work (4th ed.), by Edward Fiske and Bruce Hammond. 2014. IL: Sourcebooks, Inc. 368 Pages. Paper. $14.99

Billing itself as "the #1 bestselling book on writing essays that get you into college," this book provides high school juniors and seniors with strategies for creating winning essays for college applications. Real College Essays That Work is divided into two sections. The first section addresses the mechanics of writing an essay in three short chapters (components of a great essay, tips for overcoming writer's block, and specifics for writing narrative) totaling about thirty pages. The authors go into great detail for helping students to hone in on an appropriate and unique-to-them topic. They provide approaches for creating attention-getting openers and they provide prompts both positive and negative for finding topics. Examples of positive prompts are: Can you discuss qualities that have helped you overcome adversity, or show that you embrace learning? Can you illustrate that you are deeply committed to an idea? Examples of negative prompts are: Can you avoid telling stories that reveal depression, self-destructive qualities, and so forth? Fiske and Hammond reiterate throughout the first section of the book the importance of choosing a topic that is about the student personally, and one in which the student can write in explicit detail. Featured in the book's Appendix are the opening paragraphs of every essay included in the book.The subject of length is addressed with examples ranging from the shortest in the collection (a winning entry to Yale University clocked in at only seventy-eight words) to the wordiest (more than a thousand words). The bottom-line advice is "Long enough to be good," with a caveat to pay attention to mandates.

The Common Application, now used by more than five hundred institutions, sets a limit of between 250 and 650 words. Where length is not stipulated on an individual college's application, the authors suggest staying between 400 and 500 words as a reasonable goal. The second part of the book-the vast majority of the content-presents more than one hundred actual college essays, identifying the student-authors and the colleges or universities they chose to attend, plus a few essays are from students identified as high school students. Colleges attended range from small, private schools to top-tier and Ivy League institutions to larger, public universities. The essays are organized loosely into such topical areas as athletics, arts, community services, family, travel, politics, and a host of others. Each essay is prefaced by a short paragraph or two detailing the catalyst or situation the student used as a foundation for creating the essay. The personal stories read authentically and offer insights into a variety of students (not all Type A, high achievers).

The authors are qualified to offer their expertise: Fiske was the education editor of The New York Times for more than fifteen years, and Hammond has coauthored two other titles on college selection and admission. …

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