The College Essay Writing Process

Expert and Experienced College Essay Tutoring by Dr. Adam Schwartz

The Writing Process

Most students know this term, but what exactly does it mean? Very simply, the Writing Process is the way you discover something about yourself through the process of writing. My role in this process is to help you recognize the topic or story that has the most potential. Once we identify a promising topic, I then help you figure out the most interesting way to tell your story. Through close collaboration, we find a structure for the essay that is as unique as an individual snowflake.

Step One: Discovering Your Story

"What is this student’s story?" That was the first question we asked about every applicant when I served on the Board of Admissions at Wellesley College. You tell your story most directly in the personal statement; a truly excellent personal statement can enhance your entire application by establishing a themse to which all the other materials contribute.

In the beginning stages, we try to generate details that individualize your life. I’ll assign some free-writing exercises to help prime the pump and you’ll write an exploratory draft or two. I respond to these first-stage writings by asking a lot of questions and engaging in verbal brainstorming. Through these conversations, my students usually share a revealing detail or articulate an idea that yields a great topic.

Step Two: Telling Your Story

After we come up with the topic, then comes the task of shaping and structuring the essay, the task of figuring out how to tell your story. We look for ways to refine your topic and effectively organize the essay. You can expect to do your most extensive revisions during this stage of the process. Every time I email you back a draft with comments and track changes, I always follow up with a phone call or a meeting. These on-going conversations are key to the process because they allow you to maintain ownership over the essay and develop your voice. Expect our discussions to be punctuated by my exclamations of “Wait! Write down what you just said to me!”

Step Three: Polishing Your Story

In the early stages of writing the essay, I’ll encourage you not to focus on language. It’s simply not very efficient to spend time revising sentences in an essay that goes through a number of drafts. But in the final stage we revise every sentence for maximum clarity and grace. We polish every sentence so that the writing shines as brightly as possible.

How long is the Process?

I usually spend four to six weeks with a student on the Common Application Personal Statement. I meet one-on- one with a student once a week; these meetings last between an hour and one-half to two hours. Between the weekly meetings, the student sends me drafts in progress to comment on. Students (and their parents!) find it especially helpful for me set up deadlines and writing schedules.

As someone who has been teaching writing for more than thirty years, I know how to help a student write the best essay possible. But just as valuable is my experience on the Wellesley College Board of Admissions. I know how admissions officers read the college essays because I’ve done it myself , and this knowledge has proven invaluable in my work as a college essay coach.