Bonus College Application Essay Tips!


Since many students have asked me about the college application essay, and I don’t have time to help everyone individually,  I thought I would put together a few resources for you to use when writing your essays, if you haven’t already written them.

The college application essay is an opportunity to demonstrate how well your thinking process manages abstract to concrete ideas, how you organize your thoughts, and how well you can think through a topic.

A college essay is an opportunity to create a real person – you- that the admissions committee can relate to, not just another student writing about the death of a grandparent, or the impact a foreign missions trip had on their awareness of poverty (common themes to avoid). Use the essay to create a literary holograph of what makes you tick, images and language that brings you to life right there on the admissions conference table.

A college essay is an opportunity to demonstrate why you would be a valuable addition to their student body, to set your achievements, goals and ideas apart from the masses of students.

A college essay, when done right, will help you shine a light on who you really are, and why you deserve to go to your dream school.

We all love sample essays. Here is a collection of application essays that worked for the Johns Hopkins undergrad admissions committee.

Here is a big collection of essays that worked at colleges including Stanford, Vanderbilt, UC Berkeley, and more, as well as samples from the Common App. If you click on the school logo to the right of the essay listing, it will take you to all of the posted essays by that school. At the bottom of each essay are pros and cons.

The Daily Beast has a collection of essays


Finally, I want to share the College Confidential website with you all, if you don’t already live on it.

They have a forum where people who have already gotten in to schools you are interested will “chance you,” based on your test credentials, grades, extracurriculars,  and such.

Also, there is a lot of college info on there outside of their forum. I encourage you  to check it out.



Closed-Form Writing – Titles, Introductions, Transition Words, and Conclusions

fixed essay

These are the notes from the lecture on 10/19 and 10/20. Use them well.

Creating an Effective Title:

  • Good titles follow the principal of old before new information that we already talked about
  • Something old (a word or phrase that hook’s reader’s interest) and something new (a word or phrase that forecasts the writer’s thesis
  • Some titles state the question the essay addresses. (Will Miley Cyrus Ruin Another Generation of Young Women?)
  • Some titles abbreviate the thesis: (Miley Cyrus is Still Influencing the Generation That Watched Her in Hanna Montana)
  • Many academic titles consist of two parts separated by a colon. To the left is the key words from the essay’s issue, to the right is the essay’s question, thesis, or summary of purpose (Miley Cyrus: Why Cultural Appropriation is Never Okay)

For fun, check this out: Really. Don’t use it. Just have fun with it.

Creating Effective Introductions:

We know that the introduction provides a big-picture overview of a paper’s argument, writers often can’t compose them until they have finished at least one exploratory draft. As soon as you know the big picture of your essay, titles and intros follow some basic general principles.

What we want to grow away from: The Funnel Introduction

  • Most students have been taught an opening strategy, often called “the funnel” that encourages students to start with a broad generalization, and narrow down to the topic. We are going to learn a new technique that will help us get past this stage to write more powerful introductions.

“For thousands of years, man has looked up into the sky and wondered what the stars were. It is only recently, since the invention of the Hubble telescope, that we have begun to see the details that give us the facts we need.”

“Since the beginning of time man has pondered the meaning of life. It is only since the 1940s, after Viktor Frankel wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, that we have dared to think that we have a right to search for the meaning of life at all.”

  • The funnel often leads to vapid, low-level generalizations in opening sentences, which turns readers off.

Introductions also follow the old-to-new strategy.

  • Old information before new information is a dynamic technique for getting your reader to stay with the paper.
  • Because the writer’s thesis statement forecasts the new information the paper will present, a thesis statement for a closed-form essay typically comes at the end of the introduction.
  • What comes before the thesis is typically the old, familiar information the reader needs in order to understand the conversations the thesis joins.
  • Typical closed-form shape


(old information)


(new information)

Read examples on pp 594-595

Typical elements:

  • An opening attention-grabber – first few sentences capture your reader’s attention. Use if you aren’t sure if your reader is already interested in your problem.
  • An attention-grabber ( or hook, or lede (or “lead”) can be
    • a startling fact
    • an interesting scene
    • something else that taps into reader’s interest
  • An attention-grabber is uncommon in academic prose
  • An attention grabber is frequently used in popular prose
  • The  intro can be used as an explanation of the question to be investigated: If you know your reader already knows about the problem and cares about it, then you only need to summarize it
  • If you aren’t sure if your reader already understands, then you need to explain it in more detail, showing why it is both problematic and significant.
  • An intro can provide background information: sometimes readers need background information –
    • a definition of key terms
    • a summary of events leading up to the problem
    • in science papers, this often includes a review of pre-existing literature
  • A preview of the whole – this final element of closed-form intro sketches the big picture of your essay by giving readers a sense of the whole. This preview is the new information for your readers (which is why it comes at the end of the intro). Once stated, it becomes old information the readers will use to locate their position in their journey through your argument.
  • The easiest way to forecast the whole of your purpose is to state your thesis directly. I recommend this, at least for a few years. It makes writing easier.


  • Place them at the beginning of the paragraph.
  • Read examples page 600


Readers expect each new sentence, paragraph, and section to link clearly to what they have already read. This was the one of the biggest problems I saw with the last round of papers.

Readers need transition words to create a well-marked trail with signposts signaling the twists and turns along the way. They also need resting spots at major junctions where they can review where they have been and survey what is coming in. You need to use transition words, as well as summary and forecasting passages to keep readers securely on the trail.


Examples: therefore and nevertheless:

While on vacation, James caught the chickenpox. Therefore, _______.

While on vacation, James caught the chickenpox. Nevertheless_____________.

What does “therefore” do? It predicts an expected consequence.

While on vacation, James caught the chickenpox. Therefore he spent his vacation lying in bed, itchy, feverish, and crying for his mama.

What does “nevertheless” do? It signals an unexpected consequence.

While on vacation, James caught the chickenpox, Nevertheless, he enjoyed his vacation, thanks to calamine lotion, some good creative essays, and a marathon game of 3d Sonic the Hedgehog.

Transition words also govern transitions between ideas.


Look at the conclusion as a compliment to your introduction. The job of the conclusion is to bring a sense of completeness and closure to the profusion of detains in the body of the essay. Help the reader move from the parts back to the big picture.


  • Simple summary – recap what you have said
  • Larger significance conclusion – draw the reader’s attention to the importance or application of your argument
  • Proposal conclusion – Call for action or call for study
  • Scenic or anecdotal conclusion – Use a brief story or scene to illustrate the theme without stating it explicitly (most often used in popular writing, not academic)

*Thanks to Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing for these class notes.

Recipe for Popular Culture Analysis

These are the class notes from Monday/Tuesday class discussion about the Popular Cultural Analysis paper.


The function of the introduction:

  • to identify the topic
  • to introduce the relevant historical and cultural context, the texts you are analyzing, and your thesis
  • to introduce your thesis – which is an analytical claim that explains how your popular culture text works, what strategies it uses, and why it works the way it does.
  • to assert that your claim (thesis) will address what underlying cultural issues your pop culture text reveals
  • to assert that your claim (thesis) will address the fact that your text is produced in a certain way to achieve a certain goal.

How does this differ from your summary and analysis?

  • The first paragraph is not a summary. It is an introduction. We will have a lesson on creating a powerful introduction on Wed/Thursday


The function of the summary:

  • paraphrase sentences using your own words
  • general overview without too much detail, yet giving the right meaning
  • this can be shorter than the 1/3 summary in the Summary and Analysis paper. It’s a brief summary to give the reader the lay of the land of your text, comprising perhaps one short paragraph


The function of the body paragraphs:

  • to develop the specifically analytical (and perhaps comparative) argument offered in your claim
  • to provide careful evidence to support the various parts of the claim
  • to have one-topic paragraphs that to have identifiable topic sentences that mirror elements of the thesis

It is in the body paragraphs that you will support your thesis with complex analysis, using quotes, paraphrasing, and intellectually rigorous discussion. Wallow in complexity.


The function of this conclusion is to offer some conjecture, make some more general claims, evaluations, or suggestion of broader implications.

  • it is here where you can apply your opinion, particularly of broader implications your topic may have on society

Use at least two sources for this paper. Once can be your primary text.




Unit 3 Week 8 – Popular Cultural Analysis 10/12-10/17


This week we are going to get into the meat of the Popular Cultural Analysis assignment, by breaking down the expectations of the paper in a detailed way.

Monday 10/12 – Tuesday 10/13


  • Pop culture flash write
  • Review structure of paper
  • “Wallowing in complexity” (web)
  • A good thesis starts with a question (handout)
  • Surprising argument (handout)
  • Nutshelling your argument (handout)


  • Do nutshell worksheet. Decide on paper topic. Bring worksheet with topic to class on Wed/Thurs.
  • Google and find two sample pop culture texts on your topic. Sources can be online. Read them. Bring list of them in on Wednesday/Thursday, along with brief summary (annotation-length — 1, 2 sentences) of each, and short paragraph of how these texts might be useful for your paper. TURN IN FOR CREDIT.

Wednesday/Thursday 10/14- 10/15


  • Workshop thesis  with thesis circle game
  • Structure paper using outline, tree diagram or flowchart (with handouts)
  • How to Write a Kickin’ Introduction (with handouts)
  • In-class writing – either paper structure, or introduction


  • Write paper – this draft should have a rough summary and conclusion. Should be finished, but rough.
  • Bring in 3 rough drafts of paper for peer review on Mon/ Tues 10/26 -10/27


Popular Cultural Analysis Resource Page

An extensive list of possible popular culture  topics —

If you are interested in relating our PREFACE theme and our book to your pop cultural analysis, here are a few ideas to get you started.

Autism –

You may already know of the Parenthood TV Series’s representations of Asperger’s Syndrome(now Autism Spectrum), but doing a quick search of “Parenthood and autism” gives you an interesting picture of the medical and public response to those popular culture representations of both children and adults on the autism spectrum ( Parenthood  is available on Netflix.

Also, many people believe that Sheldon from Big Bang Theory is on the spectrum, although the show states that he is not. Here is a blog post talking about this:

Also, you might want to do some research on Dr. Temple Grandin. Claire Danes starred in a movie about her a few years back. Here is Temple Grandin’s website:

Also, if you are interested in what pop culture (especially the blogosphere) is doing with the vax vs. antivax argument, you can info gather, get both side, and see what you think:

There is an article on modified vaccines here:

And a film called Trace Amounts is showing on October 27th at 7 pm in Greenville at Camelot Cinemas – 48 Atrium Drive. This will likely give you an anti-vax viewpoint for consideration.

For a pro-vax stance, here is one site to get you started:

Here is a decent list of popular films that feature autism as a theme. It might be a longer list than you would expect:

What do you think about neurotypical people portraying special needs characters?

How about having special needs actors play special needs characters? If you are interested in disability and film, try here:


For a general list of popular cultural critical analysis examples, try this site:

This is just a start. I will expand on this list as we learn about resources. If you find any good links to pop culture topics, email me the links and I will put them on the list.




Disability Resource List

autism puzzle image

In light of our PREFACE theme and our class reading, The Curious Inciden of the Dog in the Night-Time, here is a list of links that relate to disability.  You may find these resources helpful when working on the Popular Cultural Analysis Paper and/or the Critical Response Paper.

This list is available thanks to the English Department at USC Upstate.

This Washington Post op-ed is a little longer than most, but it discusses the drafting of the ADA and is pretty much essential reading for anyone interested in it:


These two  New York Times op-ed titled “Special Education and Minorities” and “Is Special Education Racist” make good companion pieces. They not only address the intersection of race and special education, touching on the last and current topics of the Preface progrem, but they also make for good readings during the Critical Response assignment. Some students may get some good ideas for their final paper here.


  • GOVERNMENT: The Americans with Disabilities Act ( offers an Anniversary Kit, featuring videos, resources, publications, and monthly themes centered around issues of accessibility, ADA history, legal issues, etc.
  • GOVERNMENT: The US Government’s site offers an interesting view of the public face of mental health in government today. The choice of “Featured Topics” and “What to Look For” could offer interesting opportunities for rhetorical analysis of audience, etc.
  • GOVERNMENT: Chirlane McCray (First Lady of New York City) offers an editorial about her family’s experiences with depression and discusses the ways that this personal story will shape public policy in New York in the New York Daily News article from 26 Feb. 2015, “How We Will Shatter the Mental Illness Stigma
  • HISTORY: For people interested in doing archival research, historical I-Searches, or Web-based projects with students, the Digitizing Bull Street collection ( offers an interesting online collection of history, documents, and images of the South Carolina State Hospital at Bull Street (a mental health insitution) which opened in the late 1820s and is only now being entirely dismantled to make room for new development. A related PBS Documentary called Down on Bull Street ( offers an online preview of film footage of the buildings as they now stand.
  • POPULAR CULTURE: Many may already know of the Parenthood TV Series’s representations of Aspergers (now Autism Spectrum), but doing a quick search of Parenthood and autism gives you an interesting picture of the medical and public response to those popular culture representations of both children and adults on the autism spectrum ( Parenthood  is available on Netflix.

  • SCIENCE: This article about “Your Brain on Metaphors” from The Chronicle of Higher Education does not directly address autism spectrum disorders, but it does offer what I find a provocative perspective on the question of literal and figurative language that is so troubling to our narrator in The Curious Incident. The neuroscience-humanties connection also offers fun ways to get students to consider multiple critical perspectives and the value of multi-disciplinary research and interdisciplinary answers in their projects. Similarly, “Your Brain on Fiction” from The New York Times takes a neuroscience perspective to the question of fiction and reality, a question that the fictional narrator explores in attempting to “write” the story we read.
  • POLICE: The Atlantic in 2013 wrote a feature story about “How Police Officers Are (Or Aren’t) Trained in Mental Health” in response to a police shooting. As police-public relations increase in the public consciousness, this issue may allow students to draw interesting connections with their own awareness of race- and poverty-related issues in law enforcement. Students may also find and/or conduct rhetorical analysis of sample police guidelines for responding to people with mental illness at the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing (“The Problem of People with Mental Illness” at
  • HISTORY: The Disability History Museum online digital collections:*&q%5B%5D=&q%5B%5D=&dates%5B%5D=&dates%5B%5D=&view=table&num=all
  • HISTORY: The Historic England Web site includes a section on Disabilty History in the UK, filled with quotes, images, and other multimedia resources, the site offers a great overview of changing attitudes and policies toward disability. I am particularly partial to the 19th century section here: Subtopics include: Asylums: The Way Forward?, Daily Life in the Asylum, The Changing Face of the Workhouse, and The Daily Life of Disabled People. The “Abandon Hope” report on the Rosewood State Training School in Maryland from 1946 seems like a nice pairing with this historical overview.
  • HISTORY: Browse the gallery at the Disability History Museum to see popular culture representations and other images of disability from the past 125 years.
  • ADVOCACY: The Antidefamation League offers “A Brief History of the Disability Rights Movement” at
  • UNITED NATIONS: There are several United Nations reports, commisions and resolutions on disabilty, including this one from 2006: Mainstreaming Disability in the Development Agenda

Articles and Book Chapters