The College Application Essay--Tip #1: Analyze the Prompt & Determine your Purpose



To the class of 2021,


You have one more year of high school, and graduation is on the horizon. Senior year of high school is a busy one, so now is the time to write those college application essays. You don’t need to feel overwhelmed, because you are ready, and you can do this! Here’s a tip to get you started: first consider your purpose by understanding and analyzing the writing prompt. Of course, your purpose is to convince them that you are a perfect fit for their institution and that you will be successful there. It is also an opportunity to show off your writing skills and illustrate a side of you that isn’t represented in your transcripts and test scores.


But I want you to do more. I mean, really think about what you are being asked to do.

For example, let’s say you are applying to Stanford University. Stanford requires the Coalition application or the Common application which has essay prompts of their own. But Stanford also requires responses to the “Stanford Questions.” For example, applicants must write a reflection “on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.” Now ask yourself these questions: based on the prompt, what is Stanford looking for in their students? Well, they want curious students who are intrinsically motivated to learn. Did you notice the word “genuine?” They want you to reveal an authentic side of you that has a passion for learning as a result of an interesting idea or something you experienced! Take a minute to think about what that means. What does excitement for learning look like? Hmmm. Well, let’s think of a couple of examples. To the extreme, consider the literary scientist, Dr. Frankenstein! He saw lightning strike a tree that sparked that ardent desire to understand the deepest mysteries of creation and destruction. Nothing was going to stand in his way. He’s the prototypical mad scientist! Now consider a first-grade student. That inquisitive little boy or girl that always asks why questions comes into a classroom enthralled by the world and exhibits genuine—yes, genuine—excitement about learning. You can hear it in their squeals while watching a chemical reaction that results in something that looks like dragon--or is it elephant--toothpaste! So what about you? What idea or experience has sparked a deep desire for discovery?


Do you see how an understanding and analysis of a prompt can help you begin? It will serve you well to talk to your parents, teachers, and friends about the prompt before you put one stroke of your pencil to paper. You are preparing yourself to write and all of this thinking and talking is helping you generate ideas! This is pre-writing!

So, what are you waiting for? Get started by analyzing your writing prompts for your purpose.


If you want some support and more instruction in this process, join me for a writing workshop! I’ll walk you through the process and then help you with grammar and editing. You will finish the workshop with at least one polished essay.


And remember, when you get to Stanford, I expect you to send me a postcard saying hello, okay?


Come see me! Sign up for the College Application Essay Writing Workshop!


Other classes this summer include:

  • Foundations of Essay Writing & Advanced Essay Writing

  • Argument Writing & Advanced Argument Writing

  • Spin a Spooky Story (Narrative Writing)

  • Grammar & Sentence Writing


This fall, if you are learning at home, you can take an Integrated English, History, and Technology course centered around historical research and the National History Day program.


Also offered: tutoring, short-term guidance, and customized courses.

I'll see you soon, but in the meantime, take a look at the red and yellow elephant toothpaste!



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