Admissions Essay Boot Camp: How to Write Your Way into the Elite College of Your Dreams

Admissions Essay Boot Camp: How to Write Your Way into the Elite College of Your Dreams

by Ashley Wellington


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Founder of elite college prep agency Mint Tutors, Ashley Wellington shares hard-hitting essay-writing advice tailored to each student's strengths and potential pitfalls, inspiring students to write as if guided by their own personal college admissions tutor.

Your Own Pocket Essay Tutor

Ever wish you had a private tutor to help you write your admissions essays? With this book, you do. Ashley Wellington, founder of the elite New York college prep agency Mint Tutors, has personalized her hard-hitting advice just for you. Her unique “boot camp” process starts by helping you identify your student type, then figure out which topics will highlight your best (or worst) attributes to admissions officers. Thinking about writing an essay on . . .

• Sports? This popular topic is often limiting, but Wellington will help  you come across as talented—and also thoughtful and well rounded.

• Your trip to Egypt? Wellington will help you avoid common travel clichés that make admissions officers groan. 

• The color yellow
? Wellington will make sure you sound quirky and creative in the right way. 

Even the most impressive students can sound ordinary by following the formulaic approach of other essay guides—and in this über-competitive landscape, you need an edge to stand out to top schools. Wellington’s tutees have gained acceptance to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Georgetown, Duke, and other elite institutions, and with this book at your side, you can join their ranks.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781607746126
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 08/05/2014
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 512,707
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

ASHLEY WELLINGTON, MA, founded college prep company Mint Tutors ( in 2010. With degrees from Princeton University and St. Andrews University in Scotland, Wellington has worked with several premier tutoring agencies. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City.

Read an Excerpt


If you have picked up this book, you are probably in your junior or senior year of high school, which means it is impossible to augment or change what is already on your transcript. But take a deep breath. This guide is meant to show you how to successfully work with what you have. Six hundred and fifty words about (virtually) anything really can get you into the college of your dreams, as long as you remember my three H’s:

I am going to personally walk you through the confusing, intimidating, and stressful process of drafting the perfect college application essay. Along the way, I will demonstrate the difference between a clever approach, a gimmick, and an application self-destruct button. Then I will give you some more insights I’ve gleaned over the years. Remember, there is no specific right answer, but there are many, many wrong answers.

Still need convincing? Here is the more erudite version:
The essay is the keystone to an application, and as such, it can function as either an asset or a liability. Most essays are predictable, innocuous, and forgettable and do nothing to set you apart from the rest of a talented applicant pool. Bad essays—in which you come across as someone who lacks motivation, perspective, or passion—can severely hurt your chances. On the other hand, an original response to an essay question offers an immeasurable boost to your admission chances. College essays do more than just showcase your writing ability; ideally, they illustrate your priorities, admirable traits, creativity, and academic promise.
Every year, the number of students applying to college increases, and each student applies to a greater number of schools. As a result, colleges and universities can have between ten and fifteen qualified applicants vying for a single spot, and in many cases the students have comparable test scores, grades, and extracurricular interests. College essays are swiftly becoming the most significant part of an application because they often are the only variable in the admissions equation. All schools, particularly the smaller ones, have their own unique personalities, and admissions committees want to know whether you’d be a good fit for the campus environment and current student body. The essay is now the determining factor.

Mastering the college essay is somewhat of a lost art in our sound-bite culture. So often, students are intimidated by the very idea of college and end up writing only what they think admissions committees might want to hear. Whether that means assuming an overly scholarly tone, discussing a backpacking trip as a metaphor for life (ugh), or debating the intricacies of global warming in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth when nothing else on your application points to an interest in environmentalism, these attempts often fall flat. The best essays are unapologetically you. They aren’t trying to be the next great American novel; they are simply an account of something personally significant, written in a concise and compelling way.
Although the concept of writing a college essay, in which you articulate fundamental qualities you possess, is often an intimidating challenge, it’s also a fantastic opportunity to tell admissions officers why they should choose you. The prompts are intentionally broad, so you can play up your strengths on your own terms. Aside from word count, the guidelines dictate little about format, topic, voice, or tone, so you can employ your own style and discuss episodes from your life that address the essay topics with originality and confidence.
There are countless urban legends about successful college essays that made a difference for otherwise ordinary applicants. A favorite among guidance counselors goes like this: Once upon a time, a question on the Harvard application asked students to give a definition of courage based on their personal experiences. One student simply wrote, “This is courage” as his answer and mailed it in. You don’t have to be this gutsy to stand out; all you have to do is be yourself.
For this book, I’ve provided and commented on many real essays that helped students gain admission to some of the country’s top colleges and universities, listed step-by-step processes for getting ideas down on paper, and written detailed student profiles so you can see the writing process in action for the most commonly used essay topics. I’ve even classified responses by student type so you can identify with essay approaches based on your own experiences and background. The student profiles and essays have all been tweaked to protect the students’ privacy—names of high schools, summer programs, and teachers have all been changed or omitted, and the students themselves have been given pseudonyms—but everything else remains authentic.

One more thing to bear in mind: Your essay is not just a laundry list of your accomplishments. Admissions officers have access to your grades and activities. If you’ve won awards, they will know about them, so there’s no need for you to fire them off as if you walk on water in your spare time just for kicks. The only things they don’t know are the type of person you are, how you handle success, and how you relate to others. 

Table of Contents

How This Book Is Different


Chapter 1 
WHERE IT ALL BEGINS: Identifying Your Student Type

Chapter 2 
BRAINSTORM FOR IT: The Questionnaire

Chapter 3 
GET IT DOWN ON PAPER: The Freewrite Exercise

Chapter 4 
MAKE IT COUNT: Choosing the Best Prompt for You

Chapter 5 
ORGANIZE IT: The Outline

Chapter 6 
WHEN TO USE “IT’S”: The Skinny on Contractions

Chapter 7
TIDY IT UP: The Draft

Chapter 8 
MAKE IT UNIQUE: Your Version of the Most Common Long Essays
The Sports Essay
The Community Service Essay
The Outdoor Adventure Essay
The International Travel Essay

Chapter 9 
WATCH IT: Red-Flag Topics and How to Tackle Them
The Pity Essay
The Sexism Essay
The Loner Essay
The “Mea Culpa” Essay
The “Taking a Stance” Essay

Chapter 10 
DON’T PUSH IT: How to Take a Moderate Risk

Chapter 11
WRAP IT UP: A Few Final Pointers


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