I'm sure there's tons of books on this now, but seriously, you don't need to pay that much. Writing a killer college essay is as easy as copying off of the smart kid. Just follow these simple steps and you'll probably get into Dartmouth, where no one wants to go anyway.
1. Begin in trouble: "I'd never seen a grizzly bear face-to-face before" is perhaps the greatest single opening line you could ever come up with. If you're not the adventuring type, lie about it. Maybe you had a run-in with marijuana or drugs or some bad philosophy: "I never would've called myself a stoner-nihilist, until I came face-to-face with a grizzly bear." Man, I already want to read more. By beginning in trouble, you create two things: 1. a narrative "basement", the lowest point in your "life" from which you learn, grow, and mature, and 2. something that shows you aren't a pussy. Pussies never get into trouble; they're too busy doing community service and orally pleasuring their over-bearing parents. By getting into trouble, the 24 year-old who reads your essays will say, "Hey, this kid admits he's not perfect. That's way more mature than the kid with the 4.0 and 1600 from Exeter," because 24 year olds are gullible.
2. Describe your greatest achievements as a means of escape: This is very easy. Take whatever student groups or sports you're involved in and talk about how you put your head down and worked on student government/feeding the homeless/playing football/playing football against the homeless. When you looked up again, suddenly, you were out of trouble. "It was the only thing I did for a whole year- just put on my cleats and throw myself headlong into it. Before I knew it, we were going to State. I wasn't even thinking about winning anymore- I just knew I could push myself harder, better, faster. The record, wins and losses, that was just noise in the background- I was determined to do things I'd never done before, like fight grizzly bears."
3. Return to your beginning, with a different twist: What's really sad about people who read college admissions is that no one appreciates the fine craftsmanship of the utterly bullshit endings. The key to looking "mature" is to show this kind of meta-obligation to something, approaching your extra-curriculars like they actually reward you, instead of being that laundry list of bullshit you convince yourself is worth your time. Like anyone EVER had fun working on a yearbook. "When it was over, we got pizza delivered and we sat there, too exhausted to eat. The stars were out and I looked over at the other kids on staff. ?Do you think people will like the yearbook?' someone asked. I would've answered, but it didn't matter. We had put together the whole thing in two days, after our advisor had been eaten by a grizzly bear, with the only digital copy in her pocket. It was good, for any year book, even if it was marked by tragedy and hastily designed window-frames with the clichéd tagline ?looking back through time' on them. It was something more than a physical copy- it was sacrifice. Something given for something gained. I didn't let anyone sign my copy- I had gotten enough memories out of that yearbook."
Originally featured on www.TheCampusWord.com