How do you write a college application? (video)

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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How do you write a college application? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question. 


How do you write a college application? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.

I have a question from Jenny Noel, a student based in Boston, Massachusetts. Here’s what she’s asked by email:

“I am currently writing statement essays for my college application. I was wondering if you could give me advice on how to start. I have struggled with creating a thesis statement and I want to learn how to create an outline. Also, how can I check for grammar and sentence structure in each essay?”

OK, Jenny. I count about four questions in your email and I’ll try to tackle them one at a time.

Question 1: How to start your essay. First, understand that writing a college application is a stressful job. The stakes are so high! To get the best possible result, you want to be as creative as possible.

I’ve always found that creativity is best inspired by mindmapping. If you’ve never used mindmapping before, it’s a really easy process to learn and I’ve written blog posts and done videos on the subject. The link to ALL of that material is in the show-notes, below. Take the time to look at it and then USE mindmapping to help.

Question 2: How to create a thesis statement. Or, how to describe what your paper is about. Remember that an essay must be about more than a subject. It needs to offer a way to understand your subject and it should be a statement that others might dispute. Mindmapping should help you identify your thesis statement, but understand that one mindmap probably won’t be enough. You may need to do half a dozen of them — and perhaps even more — before you settle on your thesis statement.

So, here’s another tip. Before mindmapping, be sure to spend some time thinking. And here’s the secret: do it AWAY from your desk. Desks are actually one of the worst places to think. Our brains operate better when we’re doing something else, particularly walking. So, take your ideas for a walk before you start trying to write. In the show-notes below, I provide a link to my blog post on walking.

Question 3: How to build an outline. I’m going to tell you something that may blow your mind. Don’t outline until after you’ve finished writing. Outlining is  a useful part of the editing process. It’s not a useful part of writing.  

For more of my thoughts on outlining, check out the link in the show notes below.

Question 4: How to check for grammar and sentence structure. Here, I suggest you use software to help yourself. The program I recommend is called ProWritingAid. I’m not a reseller, so I won’t make any money if you buy it. But you can also use it for free if you’re willing to work 500 words at a time. You can find a link to my analysis of ProWritingAid in the show-notes, below.

Finally, let me wrap up with the words of cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon. “There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved through a suitable application of high explosives.”

JOKING! I’m making a joke, Jenny, because if you take your challenge too seriously, it’s going to make the application process so much more stressful.

It’s true, you don’t have total control of your college application. But no one does, not even your competitors. Recognizing this reality and letting go just a little will actually help you do a better job.   


If you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes. 


Mindmapping links

Walking for writers

The case against outlining (and why mindmapping is better)

Is it worth paying for ProWritingAid? (and is it better than Grammarly?) 

Your Happy First Draft 

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