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Welcome to the Essay Academy course sample

If you're here because you want to take your college essays to the next level, you're in the right place. 

Essays are the biggest barriers separating even highly competitive students from breaking out of the "sea of sameness" and standing out in the admissions process. The Essay Academy was built to help you produce college essays that stand out and increase your chances of getting in.

In the Essay Academy, you will: 

  • Learn the core essay strategies we use with our private clients and create your own strengths-based narrative strategy that you can use across all your essays. 
  • Get tons of examples of high-quality personal statements, supplemental essays, and more to and learn what they do right. 
  • Take your ideas through drafting and refining processes to reliably produce high-quality college essays. 

Over the last year, my team and I have been building the Essay Academy with the goal of creating the most accessible and highest-quality essay program available. 

How is the Essay Academy different?

  1. Our program was put together by professional writing coaches and former T-15 admissions officers. It's built around strategies that actually work in today's admissions climate. 

  2. We don't leave you to fend for yourself. By signing up for the Essay Academy, you also join our private community where we run webinars, Q&A sessions, and offer support beyond the contents of the course. 

  3. We take you through every part of the drafting process. We aren't just throwing up some essay examples and leaving it there. No. We give you straightforward, powerful frameworks to identify strengths, then help guide you through topic generation, drafting, and even revision. It's all unified under one big strategic umbrella. 

Every bit of our program is valuable and accessible for someone just starting out and for those who've spent more time researching and planning. Everyone can benefit from the program.  

Why us? 

The McNeil Admissions team has some of the best and most relevant experience for guiding today's students through the college admissions process. Our team includes moderators of the r/ApplyingToCollege subreddit (the largest admissions community in the world), recent admissions officers for T15 schools, and professional writers. 

Every year, we work with a cohort of private students to help them get into the best schools in the world. The Essay Academy makes the strategies we use with them available to you.  

Now, onto the sample

The course sample is a small excerpt taken from a section on writing your Common Application personal statement. 

In the Essay Academy, we break down Common App personal essays into 10 common essay types, or "genres." After reading thousands of these essays, we were able to categorize the majority of them into these essay types. 

Some essay frameworks provide two or three ways of planning your essay. We believe that having more templates makes it easier for writers to "see" their story in one of them. 

Let's go into our course section about one of these sections. It's called the "Sacred Practice" essay type. This section takes 25-30 minutes to go through. It's about 1/20th of the Common App section โ€” which is only about 1/3rd of the entire course! 

Let's dive in.

Common App: "Sacred Practice" Essay Genre

The Sacred Practice essay type usually deals with something extremely important to the writer. Does the "practice" in question need to be literally "sacred," in a religious sense? No. It can be anything that inspires you or fills you with awe, but it's usually something that you spend a good chunk of time working on or doing. 

Sacred Practice topics could include art or music (the example below speaks to that), time with loved ones, trips or journeys, or rituals that have great significance to you. 

Sacred Practice essays focus on areas of great personal meaning, but they often "operate" by bringing the reader deep into the experience itself. A reader should come away from a Sacred Practice essay with a clear, felt understanding of why how the "practice" shapes who you are. 

Remember, as with all personal essays, Sacred Practice topics only work to the extent that they tell the reader about you. Like with the "Showing Yourself Through Another" essay type, you need to be careful not to accidentally write an essay that focuses too much on something external to you. 

Let's look at an example of an effective Sacred Practice essay.

Example: Sacred Practice Essay 

This first example of a Sacred Practice essay focuses on music and the writer's relationship to perfection. Download an annotated copy of the essay here to read along. 

Take a look: 

This essay is beautifully written. It's a touching portrait of music, self-doubt, and the writer's ability to find a meaningful definition of success despite a partial "failure." I get a deep sense of the writer's maturity, their sense of self, and their deep power over self-expression.

Note that while this essay is about an extracurricular (piano), it's really about self-discovery, growth, and meaning-making.

A much worse version of this essay would have focused narrowly on the technical achievement of the pieceโ€”of struggling and struggling only to finally master the work once and for all.

Why would this be worse?

Because it would likely result in an essay that prioritizes impressing the reader, rather than being honest and truthful about one's experience. That is the high bar for a Sacred Practice essay. 

Sequence & Tips For a Sacred Practice Essay 

How do we draft a Sacred Practice essay that works? Drafting this essay type can be hard, because often Sacred Practice essays, unlike others, do not rely on a specific narrative drama. No predictable "story arc" goes from point A to point B. 

Instead, vivid detail and a connection to the inner life is key. There's more flexibility in how 

Writing a powerful conclusion that returns to a theme built across the essay also matters. In the general section of the Essay Academy, we cover how to build themes that relate closely to your strengths and your resume. We also cover building a conclusion that really hits.  

But what makes a Sacred Practice essay successful? Here are some tips. 

Essays that "ooze meaning" stand out. Sacred Practice essays work when they show how an experience or relationship speaks to the innermost values of the writer. You can

As with all of our essay tropes, the concept of "vulnerability" also matters. Any personal statement can be written in 5 hours. But the best ones genuinely and honestly reflect on a topic that has true depth to you as a reader. 

We go into building depth and vulnerability more when we talk about the 5 Biggest Goals of a great personal statement. If you're interested in that, join our Essay Academy cohort.

Next, let's take a look at part of our essay drafting framework. This section refers to other parts of the course--like our special Essay Archetype framework--that aren't included here.  

Free-Writing your Essay Topic

The goal of a freewrite isn't to produce something perfect -- it's to get out all the garbage. 

Your best ideas are trapped under the greasy surface of your bad ideas. Whether you uncover them or not is a factor of little more than elbow grease.

The first step in moving from a basic idea (which we work on surfacing in the section focused on Essay Archetypes and your resume) to a complete draft is free-writing. Here's a structured approach to free-writing that you can work through. 

Want to download the framework for the free-write? Here it is. Answer the questions I lay out there and see where it takes you in 20 or so minutes. 

Let's watch a live free-write: 

Remember, no matter what topic you've selected for your essay or what framework it fits under, your goal should be to get words down on the page. 

Beginning with a no-pressure free-write is (hands-down) the best way to start your personal statement writing process. 

After you've done your free-write, the next step is to go through our Plot Points and Structured Follow-Up exercises. These will help you take that inkling of an idea into a structured draft that you can continue to work on and improve.  

End of course sample

Thanks for taking the time to go through our Essay Academy course sample. The full course contains 9 essay genres with multiple example essays in each--and that's just in our Common App section. 

We've worked hard to build a framework for identifying the most powerful themes in your resume, extracting the best essay ideas, and taking those forward into completed drafts. And you can always get support from us in the private Essay Academy community. 

Ready to apply? We can't wait to work with you. 



About Alex McNeil

Alex is the CEO of McNeil Admissions and the moderator of r/ApplyingToCollege. But most of all, he believes in helping every student access college resources.

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