Cafe College - 131 El Paso Street  San Antonio, TX   78204
Cafe College not only hosts monthly college essay workshops which are typically presented by College Admission Counselor's who are the experts in College Essay tips, but you may also swing by anytime (Tuesday - Friday 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM and Saturday's 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM)to receive one-on-one assistance (no appointment necessary).  Click on this link to review their calendar: Cafe College

The Alamo Heights English department also provides guidance and support for seniors with their college essays throughout their high school career.  The support becomes more intense their senior year as their English teachers and the Teacher of Academic Excellence in English , Dr. Laura Davenport are available to assist.  

BEFORE OCTOBER 1st - Dr. Davenport is available by appointment only during 7th period and after school for essay assistance

AFTER OCTOBER 1st - Students needing assistance with their, you may visit Dr. Davenport's office at 258-South to schedule an appointment or email her directly:  [email protected]

You may also visit her website for additional information via this link:  Dr. Davenport

The College Essay


This article is based, in part, on information found in The College Application Essay,
by Sarah Myers McGinty, courtesy of The College Board.

Why is it important?
    The college essay is a student's opportunity to reveal his/her best qualities and to show an admission committee what makes him/her stand out from other applicants.

How important is the essay?
    The National Association for College Admission Counseling’s 2011 State of College Admission report found that while grades, strength of curriculum and admission test scores are the top factors in the college admission decision, a majority of colleges and universities deem the essay to be of considerable or moderate importance in determining which academically qualified students they would choose.  In other words, when all else is equal between competing applicants, a compelling essay can make the difference. A powerful, well-written essay can also tip the balance for a marginal applicant.

What are colleges looking for in an essay?
    College admission officers look to the essay for evidence that a student can write well and support ideas with logical arguments. They also use the essay as a potential indicator of the prospective student’s personality.  Sarah Myers McGinty, author of The College Application Essay, shares the following tip for both counselors and students: "If you get a chance, ask college representatives about the role of the essay at their colleges. At some colleges the essay is used to determine fit, and at others it may be used to assure the college that the student can do the work. At any rate, find out from the rep how essays are weighted and used in the admissions process."

How much help is too much help?
    According to the College Board's 2003 report Admissions Decision-Making Models, admission officers have expressed concern about how much assistance students receive in preparing an essay.   Admissions counselors can detect signs if an outside source has “helped” too much.  A teacher or parent may only give general feedback and point out areas that need revision.  Many institutions now ask applicants to sign a statement avowing that the essay submitted is their own work.

What are the different types of essays that colleges require?
    Typically, colleges may present three types of essay prompts to prospective students:
  • The "You" question,
  • The "Why Us" question, and
  • The "Creative" question. 
The following descriptions of these types of essays and tips on how to write them are based on information found in The College Application Essay  by Sarah Myers McGinty.

     The "You" question:
         This question boils down to "Tell us about yourself." The college wants to know
    students better as individuals and to see how students introduce themselves.

     Example:  UVM values a diverse student body. What contributions might you make to our
     campus community outside of academic achievement?" (University of Vermont)
     Advantage of this type of essay:  This prompt offers students a chance to reveal
     something about themselves other than grades and test scores.

     Disadvantage of this type of essay:  A student can become garrulous due to the
     open-ended nature of these questions and can produce a garbled essay that is rambling
    and unfocused.

     Tips for composing a good “You” essay:  Focus on just a few things and avoid the urge to
     "spill everything" at once.   Do not simply write from your resume in paragraph form.
     Instead, develop one small event, person, place or feeling with extensive and specific
    narration. Tell a story that only you can tell.


    The "Why Us" question:
         Some institutions ask for an essay about a student's choice of a particular college or
     career. They are seeking information about the applicant's goals and about how serious
    the student’s commitment is to this particular college.

     Example: How did you become interested in American University?"

     Advantage of this type of essay:  This type of question provides a focus for the essay; that
    is, why the student chose this particular college or career path — and the answer to that  
     question should be clear and well elaborated.  Another upside to this type of question is
     that, while working on the essay, the student might realize that the college is not a good
     match, after all — and it is certainly better to know that sooner than later.

     Disadvantage of this type of essay:  Any factual errors in the essay regarding the college
     will reveal that the student has not investigated the college fully and/or  thought deeply
    about the choice. For example, writing about attending Carleton College to major in
    agriculture would be a blunder, because Carleton does not offer an agriculture major.

     Tips for composing a good “Why Us” essay:  Make absolutely sure that you know your
     subject well.  Do not go overboard with flattery. Responses should sound sincere but not


    The "Creative" question:
         The goals of the "creative" question are to evaluate a candidate's ability to think and
     write creatively and to assess the breadth of his/her knowledge and education.

     Example: "Sharing intellectual interests is an important aspect of university life. Describe
    an experience or idea that you find intellectually exciting, and explain why." (Stanford

     Advantage of this type of essay:  This kind of question gives students an opportunity to  
     convey their personalities and views.

     Disadvantage of this type of essay:  Some students may take the "creative" aspect of the
     question as license to be obscure, pretentious or undisciplined in their writing.

     Tips for composing a good “Creative” essay:  Write an informed essay.  For example, you
    should not write about a fantasy meeting with a famous artist and, in doing so, incorrectly
     present titles of the artist’s paintings.  Use common sense.  “Creative" does not mean
     eccentric or self-indulgent.   Do not write about high-minded topics or exotic locales simply
    to impress the reader.



College Prep Guides: Writing an A+ Admissions Essay By Shaan Patel
It is natural to feel stressed about submitting college applications. The information included in the application will play a major role in deciding the future path of your life. However, unlike most other components of the application that offer numbers and statistics, the essay is your chance to show a different side of you as a person. The college application essay is where you can bring your personality to life for college admissions officers. Here are some important tips to help you get started:

Use Your Voice and Natural Language Using a thesaurus to throw in unnecessarily large works often ends up looking rather clunky and awkward. This is espe-cially the case if they are words that you do not normally use. This does not mean that you should write very casually, but do let your own voice come through in the writing. Make it easy for the other person to read and relate to your writing.

Make it Interesting For a moment, imagine that you are an admissions officer. Think about the piles and stacks of essays that you might have to read. Try to choose a unique angle. Each of us is different. What makes you different from other students? One of the most powerful strategies is to use an opening sentence that hooks the reader’s curiosity. For example, instead of simply stating, “I have always loved sports since I was young,” put the reader right there with you on the sports field by writing something like, “Everyone held their breath as I threw the ball towards the basket in those last crucial seconds.”

Show Versus Tell There is major difference between telling someone that you are talented and proving it. Instead of saying that you are proficient at playing the piano, why not prove it by discussing the certificates, awards, or teaching and volunteer experi-ence that might have resulted from it? These are personal details that make your experience more real for the reader. By including such details, you transform a subjective statement to an objective one.

Beware of Wordiness Don’t be afraid to be concise in your essay. You don’t have to fill up pages and pages. A short sentence can be digested by readers much more easily than one that runs on for four lines. Think you can succinctly and accurately present your-self in half a page? Why not try it and ask your teachers and parents to read it over? Less is often more when writing col-lege admissions essays.

Slang and Jargon While you do want to use natural language in an admission essay, you should steer clear of jargon and slang. There are plenty of words in the English language that express all shades of meanings. Use care to pick good words that convey your meaning. This shows that you have put thought and care into your essay, along with the fact that you are a compe-tent writer.

Sentence Length and Transition A common error that many writers (not just students!) make is that they end up with sentences that are all the same length. This repetition makes it boring for the reader. To avoid this, use different styles and lengths of sentences. Use conjunctions and other tools to keep things interesting. Don’t start ever sentence the same way, but instead use transition words to introduce new ideas.

2016-2017 Apply Texas Application
Essay A:
What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood, or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.

Essay B:

Most students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself.

Essay C:
You've got a ticket in your hand - Where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?

Common Application Essay Prompts

We are pleased to share the Essay Prompts with you. New language appears in italics:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

The 2015-16 Common Application Essay Prompts

Tips and Guidance for the 5 Essay Options on the New Common Application

By Allen Grove
College Admissions Expert

The current Common Application, CA4, launched on August 1st, 2013, but the essay prompts have been revised for the 2015-16 college application cycle. When CA4 launched, one of the biggest changes from the previous version was the essay section. Gone were the six essay prompts from the past decade, and college applicants no longer have the Topic of Your Choice option. With the 2015-16 udpates, the "describe a place" option~has been replaced by #4 below on solving a problem.
The current prompts are the result of much discussion and debate from the member institutions who use the Common Application. With CA4, the length limit for the essay was increased from 500 words to 650, and students will need to choose from the five options below. The new prompts are designed to encourage reflection and introspection. If your essay doesn't include some self-analysis, you haven't fully succeeded in responding to the prompt.
Below are the five options with some general tips for each:
Option #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.~If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
"Identity" is at the heart of this prompt. What is it that makes you you? The prompt gives you a lot of latitude for answering the question since you can write a story about your "background, identity, interest, or talent." Your "background" can be a broad environmental factor that contributed to your development such as growing up in a military family, living in an interesting place, or dealing with an unusual family situation.
Your could write about an event or series of events that had a profound impact on your identity. Your "interest" or "talent" could be a passion that has driven you to become the person you are today. However you approach the prompt, make sure you are inward looking and explain how and why~the story you tell is so meaningful.
Option #2: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success.~Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
This prompt may seem to go against everything that you've learned on your path to college. It's far more comfortable in an application to celebrate successes and accomplishments than it is to discuss failure. At the same time, you'll impress the college admissions folks greatly if you can show your ability to learn from your failures and mistakes. Be sure to devote significant space to the second half of the question--what was your response to failure, and how did you learn and grow from the experience? Introspection and honesty is key with this prompt.
See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #2
Sample essay for option #2: "Striking Out"
Option #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Keep in mind how open-ended this prompt truly is. The "belief or idea" you explore could be your own, someone else's, or that of a group. The best essays will be honest as they explore the difficulty of working against the status quo or a firmly held belief, and the answer to the final question--would you make the same decision again--need not be "yes." Sometimes in retrospection we discover that the cost of an action was perhaps too great. However you approach this prompt, your essay needs to reveal one of your core personal values. If the belief you challenged doesn't give the admissions folks a window into your personality, then you haven't succeeded with this prompt.
Option #4: Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma--anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
Here again the Common Application gives you a lot of options for approaching the question. With the ability to write about an "intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma," you can essentially write about any issue that you find important. Note that you do not have to have solved the problem, and some of the best essays will explore problems that need to be solved in the future. Be careful with that opening word "describe"--you'll want to spend much more time analyzing the problem than describing it. This essay prompt, like all of the options, is asking you to be introspective and share with the admissions folks what it is that you value.
Option #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
I'm not a fan of the way this prompt is worded for it suggests that a single event or accomplishment can be so transformative that one becomes an adult overnight. Maturity comes as the result of a long train of events and accomplishments (and failures). That said, this prompt is an excellent choice if you want to explore a single event or achievement that marked a clear milestone in your personal development. Be careful to avoid the "hero" essay -- admissions offices are often overrun with essays about the season-winning touchdown or brilliant performance in the school play. These can certainly be fine topics for an essay, but make sure your essay is analyzing your personal growth process, not bragging about an accomplishment.
See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #5
Sample essay for option #5: "Buck Up"
Some Final Thoughts: Whichever prompt you chose, make sure you are looking inward. What do you value? What has made you grow as a person? What makes you the unique individual the admissions folks will want to invite to join their campus community? The best essays spend significant time with self-analysis, and they don't spend a disproportionate amount of time merely describing a place or event. Analysis, not description, will reveal the critical thinking skills that are the hallmark of a promising college student.
If you find yourself grumbling about the loss of the "Topic of Your Choice" option for the essay, keep in mind that all five of the new prompts allow for great flexibility and creativity. The folks at The Common Application have cast a wide net with these questions, and nearly anything you want to write about could fit under at least one of the options.


As college admission applications open, high school seniors are looking for inspiration as they write a compelling college essay. Rick Clark, director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech, offers some practical tips.

"I’m going to let you in on a secret. The person reading your essay wants it to be great! We always start on your side. Here are a few ways to keep us there:

Personal. Since most schools don't interview, this is the one opportunity you have to bring your voice into the application. Your test scores won't help readers understand if you are funny or if you are quirky or deeply concerned about a global or community issue. Think about it like this: If you dropped your unsigned essay in the hallway at school and a friend picked it up, would they know it was yours? If not, re-think your topic or style.

Passion. What do you love? What do you loathe? What are you obsessed with or what terrifies you? If something from one of those categories can tie into a college admission topic, write about that. After reading hundreds of essays in a year, admission officers can tell in the first two sentences if your tone, words, and topic are really you. Don't let a parent, counselor, or consultant strip “you” out of your essay.

Print. Have you ever typed an email or a paper and believed adamantly that a word or entire phrase was there but in reality it wasn’t? Printing your essay and reading a hard copy will help you find errors or omissions. It can also provide amazing insight into more radical improvements, too.

Proofreader. Since you already have your essay printed out, ask someone else to read it. You’ll make a mistake if you don’t let a parent, teacher, or friend look it over. Don't just ask if they like it. Ask: Is it authentically me? Do you hear my voice? Is it different from what the other 20,000 kids applying could write?

Procrastinate. Saved this one for last. See what I did there? Let me be clear. This is a DON'T. Start now on writing, curating, editing, revising, and seeking advice on your essays. Have you ever furiously brushed your teeth, flossed, and used mouthwash eight times on the day of your dentist appointment? It's the same idea. Each year thousands of applications are submitted on the final day. Many come in the final hours. I'm convinced that what really takes time is finishing up your essays. So brush your proverbial teeth consistently for the next month and you'll have a plaque-free essay by the time it’s due."


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