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Rigorous Resources

How to Write a College Essay: Personal Narrative Advice, Examples, Assignment, & Rubric

How to Write a College Essay: Personal Narrative Advice, Examples, Assignment, & Rubric

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Updated for the 2023-2024 COMMON APP: This 30-page EDITABLE curriculum has everything you'll need to help your students write phenomenal college application essays.


Here are some highlights from the 30-page curriculum:

 How to Get Started (Handout #1): Tips for how to get started on one's college essay and overcome writer's block. (1 page)

 Strategies for Crafting Vivid & Lively Prose (Handout #2): While the question of what students choose to write about will be important, the question of how they write will be equally important since a writer's style can reveal a lot about their personality. This handout features advice on how students can write essays using vibrant and virtuosic prose that will enamor any admissions officer. (2 pages)

 The Opening Line: Attention-Grabbing Hooks (Handout #3): The opening paragraph is the single most important part of a college essay. How will your students capture the interest of admissions officers? How will they make a memorable first impression? This handout offers several suggestions for how to focus an opening paragraph, followed by concrete examples of opening paragraphs by top essayists like Annie Dillard, Frank McCourt, Louise Erdrich, Naomi Shihab Nye, and others. (4 pages)

 How to Format a College Essay (Handout #4): This handout offers advice for the structural organization of college essay, with tips on what should be included in each paragraph. The strategy offered here will enable students to showcase their skills at descriptive writing, narrative writing, informational writing, and reflective writing — all in less than 650 words! (1 page)

 Sample Essays: Show your students eight successful college essays written by students who were admitted to top-ranked colleges and universities. These were the favorite essays that impressed admissions committees at Cornell University, Hamilton College, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, New York University, and Tufts University. (18 pages)

 Writing Assignment: This carefully scaffolded writing assignment will help students to get practice at writing narrative essays in response to actual prompts on the Common App from 2023-2024. (1 page)

 Writing Rubric: Use this rubric to evaluate the narrative essays that your students write in response to to the prompts from the Common App of 2023-2024. (1 page)


This resource packet will come to you in two separate formats: Word doc and PDF. Because the Word doc is editable, you'll be able to customize the materials to suit your teaching style and/or the skill levels of your students — year after year! If you don't have Microsoft Word, you'll still be able to access the materials in PDF format, which is easy to navigate and quick to print!

I'm eager to do everything I can to make sure you have an amazing experience with helping students write their college application essays. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch via the email address below. Thank you for choosing Rigorous Resources! 


Happy teaching!

Adam Jernigan, Ph.D.

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