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Writing a better college essay

Students study with their laptop computers.

Getting kids into college is why many parents spend a lot to give them a leg up. Kids who have honed skills and developed talents in expensive classes may have an edge in this race to the top, but there's another tried and tested approach to getting in-- the essay.

Back in January we talked to Ron Lieber, the Your Money columnist for The New York Times, about his search for what makes a stand-out essay. He's back to give us an update on his findings. Lieber says he received about 65-70 essays.  "One of the things that was surprising," he says, "is that there were a lot of essays about work. And it wasn't so much about the parents' work or lack thereof and unemployment. Many of the essays were actually about kids' attempt to get work and how hard it is to be a teenager who wants a job, but can't necessarily find one and may have to invent one in order to make money."


 A new topic for your college admissions essay: Money

College admissions officers say that more high school seniors than usual are writing their college essays about money issues.    

 


Lieber says all the standout essays took risks. For example, one of the basic rules of the college admissions essay writing process is that you're not supposed to write about the process of applying to college. But he picked one essay by a student, Julian, who wrote about the money colleges spent to get him to apply. "He actually added it all up and it was something on the order of $200 in postage that various colleges had spent on him," says Lieber.

Another essay that stood out to Lieber started out with the phrase: "I wonder if Princeton should be poorer." In the essay, the student wondered whether the university was doing enough to exist in the nation's service, which she used as a segue way to discuss her desire to do good in the world. "It was incredibly daring, really effective. An incredible opening line that sort of stopped me and the other person who was reading it with me," says Lieber. The student didn't get into Princeton, but is going to attend Cornell University.  

 


For tips on writing a college admissions essay, check out these links:

5 Best Tips for Writing College Essays

One guidance counselor’s tips for helping students write engaging, effective college essays

Top Ten Tips for Writing a College Essay

 

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