Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps, Second Edition, by Alan Gelb
Gelb, a writer and writing coach, began coaching students on their college essays when his own sons were applying to college. At more than 200 pages, the book offers a look into narrative essay structure and provides writers with a step-by-step approach to crafting the personal statement. Gelb goes into detail about what makes a narrative compelling, and offers full examples from his clients’ earliest drafts through revision to their final essay. I like that he highlights the importance of revision, and he provides a number of “before” and “after” examples. Another favorite part is the list of questions he provides in helping writers arrive at a topic.
Escape Essay Hell: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Narrative College Application Essays, by Janine Robinson
Robinson’s arrestingly-titled 72-page book cuts the essay writing process (and theory behind it) to the essentials. Paragraphs are short, and Robinson provides excellent advice and exercises to get students thinking deeply about their topic and begin writing. Like Gelb, Robinson is also a writer and writing coach with a private practice. She provides excerpts rather than full examples of essays, but these excerpts are instructive and to-the-point. I give kudos to Robinson’s brevity, and the advice she offers in how to structure a compelling narrative. Like Gelb, she mentions “topics to avoid,” (death, illness, divorce) but notes that even these can work if the student focuses on lessons learned rather than too much description of the writer’s suffering. I also like that Robinson challenges writers to seek the “universal truth” in their story and write about it in the final paragraph.