Black Excel believes that the college essay you submit with you college application, is often a key factor in admissions decisions, particularly when you are targeting and shooting for entry into the cadre of about 100 "powerhouse" schools. We're talking about the Ivy League giants, and institutions that many classify as "very competitive." Schools like Smith, Wesleyan, Spelman, Hampton, Johns Hopkins, U. of Virginia, Amherst, Haverfold, Oberlin, Morehouse, to name just a few.
Our experience working with applicants has been that a "knockout" essay can sometimes work miracles during the application process. BLACK EXCEL believes that the essay holds far more weight than what is generally conveyed in the college guide books. In the essay we are put under the microscope: Who is this student? How can he or she fit in? Can he or she write? BLACK EXCEL cannot say it loud enough: a strong essay can be the "odds beater!"


Here's an actual Black Excel response to a student looking for essay advice...


I have read and reread your essay, and my overall feeling is that you're on the right road, have made some good points, and all you need is a little direction and some pointers. First, let me make clear that all essays don't impact on all readers the same way. I have read hundreds of essays--both in books and in one-on-one situations--and I can assure you that one person may rave over a piece, while another feels merely lukewarm. What I am saying is that, though I am a published writer, my word is not gospel. You should consider my analysis carefully, then do what you yourself feel is necessary to improve your work. In the final analysis you have to go with your gut feeling.

The main point I want to make is that no matter what the college application gives as a theme, you must be clever enough to make yourself the key and central focus of the essay. You must find a way to make yourself look special, personable, and a potential resource to the college or university. In a nutshell, you must SELL YOURSELF!

Believe me, there are students who get into a school purely on the strength of their essays when other aspects of their academic career are questionable. You want to make the reader of your essay sit up and say, "We've got to take this applicant!" and "This student would will be great for our campus!" Of course, within the framework of the essay you must demonstrate that you can write at the level expected at that particular college. An essay that is A-OK at College X might not "sing' for a Spelman or Harvard.

To the theme: Let's say the college wants you to write about "How Can We Better Mankind?" Some students handle such topics in a general way, and that's usually a mistake.

Let's suppose you have no problem handling the question and making it clear that you can write. Wouldn't it be even better to put >yourself into the framework and content of the essay? If do that you could have the admissions team beaming. After all, you really are the topic. One student we know was given a topic about "mankind" to write and began his essay: "In high school I worked on a hospital ward with AIDS patients." He grabbed the attention of the admissions committee, and he held it. Not only was his opening a moving one; the writer then added extras (tutoring he had done, voter registration drives, etc). He wrote to the topic within a framework that made him look very special. That's what you have to do as well, Andrea.

Before I go any further, let me say that I believe that your essay as it is would be okay for Anyplace State or Noplace University. They will say you "can write," notice that you've been in special programs and a top school, and would probably accept you (in my opinion) on your overall record. For My Chosen University, however, I think you would be wise to read and reread my comments, and go in with everything that you can. There is no getting around the fact that those other applicants will be very capable, and have been waiting for this moment since kindergarten! Remember: take between 15-30 days (or longer!) to write and rewrite your essay. Not a few hours, not a day or two. The essay is going to be as important as any of your grades. Your essay must make them feel they know who you are.


I think you should try and make your essay as simple and as clear as possible. Again, the main emphasis should be on your "special" qualities. You should use clear, basic language with little attempt to be fancy or impressive with "stuffed" words/concepts. For example, your first paragraph should be simplified, perhaps rewritten. It is not ringing true. I believe most readers will feel that the "real" essay begins in paragraph #2. That's where they're going to start sitting forward! I know I did. This is where I get a feel for you and your family as a person.. (The yellow lines I inserted mean that I felt there was a dip in power, or a lack of clarity.) You are writing from the heart, and I am with you from, "To my parents, this was the best thing that could happen." You tell how they found a safer environment for you, a nicer home, a better school system and "hopefully more ambitious friends for me and my brother." This section is ringing out, pulling the reader with you. I like the way you have written that "change is inevitable," just at the right place. You might consider whether the word "virtually" is necessary.

The 4th paragraph is very good. Yes, I would stay with "In junior high school...I played the flute in the concert band. My favorite tune was Mozart's 7th..." etc, etc. That had me smiling, and those admissions people will be knocked off their chairs. Yes, tell your story, and make them open their eyes when case folder number 1125 (yours!) makes its debut!...


Isaac Black
Founder, Black Excel


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 **Essays are reviewed/discussed by BLACK EXCEL by return letter for $19.95, including tax. Just send your draft essay, listing the colleges you are interested in. Allow three weeks for a our response.