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Tar Heel Traveler

College Essays

I often help high school seniors with their college essays. For some students, the essay is pure torture. But when I was that age, that’s the one part of the application I looked forward to. In fact, I remember my own college essay. I told a story about the time I skippered a sailboat in a race full of tension and drama — and the lessons I learned from the heartbreaking finish.


Man, I had fun writing that one. I felt I was right back there on that roiling water with the tiller in my hand and the finish line dead ahead. I just wished I hadn’t made that awful mistake ...


I think the best strategy for writing a college essay is to simply tell a story.  “Tell me a story!” is what CBS News pioneer Don Hewitt used to say to his 60 Minutes reporters. The who, what, where, when, and how were certainly important to him — but they didn’t really sink in if they weren’t wrapped into a compelling tale.


I have included below a real example of a high school student’s first draft of a college essay. I was impressed when he sent it to me because he did indeed begin by telling a story. What I did was modify it, tighten it in places, heighten the drama, and make it more relevant to the lessons learned. 


If you like what I did — and maybe you don’t; maybe you like his version over mine, which is quite all right — but if you think you might indeed need help crafting that all-important essay, feel free to drop me a line


Please include your name, the writing prompt, and any other information you think might be helpful.  Don’t forget to attach a document with what you have so far. I will try to get you an estimate within five business days.

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