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10 Online Writing Courses to Help You With Your College Application

In the labyrinth of college applications, the written word wields an unparalleled influence. Consider these staggering statistics: a resounding 84% of Harvard applicants meet or exceed the academic benchmark, and yet, Harvard’s admittance rate was under 4% as of 2022. What sets the chosen few apart? The key lies in the personal score ascribed to each applicant  of which a key component is their essay and personal statement. In other words, writing is a pivotal aspect that distinguishes the top candidates from the crowd of aspiring applicants.

3 out of 4 students wielding strong essays secure admission at selective colleges despite their academic profile falling below the average admitted student’s credentials. Hence, your essay can serve as a bridge, transforming “reach”, or “dream” schools into tangible possibilities, emphasizing the persuasive prowess of a well-crafted narrative in the admissions saga. 4 key writing tools that college students can leverage to improve their odds of securing admissions include:

  • writing a compelling narrative, 

  • writing persuasively, 

  • learning to write academically, 

  • and learning to write specifically for college applications.

The ability to spin a compelling narrative paints a vivid picture of one’s experiences and aspirations to admissions officers. Persuasive writing helps present arguments coherently and compellingly, essential not only in academic pursuits but also in persuading admission committees about one’s suitability for their institution. Mastering academic writing early on in one’s academic career signifies intellectual depth and clarity of thought, and can be a standout feature on an application. 

Finally- tailoring writing specifically for college applications helps students communicate their resonance with the institution’s values, showcasing alignment between their goals and the college’s ethos. In this blog, we have curated 10 online writing courses spanning these 4 types of writing skills for aspiring college applicants as well as college admissions counselors. These courses can be done from anywhere and a few of them are completely free of cost! 

Before you dive in, we’ve covered a few tips to help you ace your supplementary essay, which you can check out here!

This course offers an introduction to the theory and practice of rhetoric, focusing on the art of persuasive writing and speech. Through the analysis of speeches from influential twentieth-century figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and more, participants will delve into rhetorical structures and styles. Based on Harvard Professor James Engell’s “Elements of Rhetoric,” the course aims to equip learners with the skills to construct compelling arguments, recognize persuasive techniques, and apply them effectively in various contexts. By mastering persuasive writing and speech, participants gain a competitive edge in crafting compelling application essays, showcasing their abilities to construct robust arguments and effectively communicate their ideas.

Location: Online

Cost: Free

Eligibility: Open to all

Application Deadline: Open enrollment

Course Dates: 8 weeks, self-paced

The Academic Writing Specialization by UC Irvine comprises 5 writing courses designed to equip you with a range of skills applicable across college courses and professional settings. You’ll master the art of conducting thorough academic research and articulating ideas coherently in an academic style. In the concluding Capstone Project, you’ll synthesize your knowledge from these courses, crafting an academic research paper on a topic of your choosing. The modules include Grammar and Punctuation (17 hours), Getting Started with Essay Writing (19 hours), Advanced Writing (19 hours), Introduction to Research for Essay Writing (20 hours), and culminate in the final project: Writing a Research Paper.

Location: Online

Cost: Free

Eligibility: Open to all

Application Deadline: Open enrollment

Course Dates: 2 months at 10 hours per week, self-paced

Narrative writing hinges on the development of a strong premise and crafting a synopsis from there. In the initial five weeks, this course covers story structure basics and premise development. The subsequent three weeks focus on shaping these strong premises into actionable plans — a novel or memoir synopsis. Personalized one-on-one sessions with the instructor are available for students to refine their premise ideas and synopses through video conferences. Continuous feedback sessions among students on each other’s premises and synopses foster learning. By the course end, students will possess a rigorously tested premise, a well-fleshed-out three- to five-page synopsis, and a clear roadmap for further story development or their writing endeavors.

Location: Online

Cost: $825 for tuition, not including course materials

Eligibility: Open to the general public, regardless of where you live. To register, students must hold a high school diploma or the equivalent. No special visas are necessary for international students.

Application Deadline: Unspecified

Course Dates: 8 weeks, Jan 22 — Mar 15, 2024

With the decreasing emphasis on standardized test scores, college admissions essays hold greater significance. The Columbia Writing Academy, a two-week online course led by Dr. Nancy Sommers, aims to assist students in cultivating their distinct voices and styles to create compelling college admissions essays. Throughout this course, students delve into various stages of essay writing — brainstorming, drafting, and revising — receiving comprehensive feedback from the teaching team. Geared toward highly motivated individuals striving to refine their personal statements, the program emphasizes small-group workshops and personalized 1:1 tutorials to elevate the quality of each student’s writing.

Location: Online

Cost: $3,960 (+$50 on course materials)

Eligibility: Open to students applying during their senior year of high school for participation just after graduating.

Application Deadline: April 1, 2024

Course Dates: 2 weeks, July 15– July 25, 2024

Oxford University’s Advanced Writing Lives delves into the art of transforming personal and others’ experiences into compelling narratives, empowering students to craft their own impactful texts. This course stands out by introducing advanced topics and approaches aligned with second-year university/Level 5 study. It encourages a high level of originality and creativity in memoir and narrative writing. Prior writing experience, a keen interest in undertaking a substantial personal project, advanced English-language proficiency, and readiness to produce reflective critical commentary are recommended prerequisites for this course.

Location: Online

Cost: $730

Eligibility: Open to all. Not compulsory that applicants hold an English language certification, but they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to the qualifications listed here. Additionally, the recommended minimum computer specification is available here.

Application Deadline: Open enrollment

Course Dates: 10 weeks at approximately 10 hours a week, Jan 10 — Mar 22, 2024

Part of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing department, the Writing And Rhetoric course explores rhetoric as a framework for crafting meaning that aids in comprehending intricate ideas, motivating action, and reshaping our world. It delves into a systematic analysis of rhetoric’s impact on readers while equipping students to make informed choices when creating their own texts. Through this course, participants develop the skill to dissect public arguments and construct persuasive claims and appeals tailored to engage a wider audience. The course can be downloaded for free and is self-paced with assignments and oral presentations. 

Location: Online

Cost: Free

Eligibility: Open to all

Application Deadline: Open enrollment

Course Dates: 15 weeks, self-paced

This Udemy course is a comprehensive guide for students navigating the college application process, covering essential elements such as crafting a compelling narrative, brainstorming and structuring essays, self-revision techniques, discerning strong personal statements from weaker ones, and steering clear of common pitfalls in essay writing. Whether starting from scratch or seeking to enhance existing applications, the course equips students with advanced revision strategies, essay frameworks, and reviews — featuring essays that secured admission to prestigious colleges like Yale and Dartmouth. Designed with sophomores and juniors in mind, the course offers a proactive approach for those preparing for college applications.

Location: Online

Cost: $39.99

Eligibility: Open to all, but recommended for high school students looking to apply to college.

Application Deadline: Open enrollment

Course Dates: Self-paced

UC Berkeley’s “The Craft of Writing” course fosters a deep familiarity with essential craft elements in creative writing: imagery, voice, character, scene, summary, and setting. Participants explore and apply these elements across fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction genres. Weekly readings and discussions provide a foundation for honing skills that identify the essence of memorable writing. Through critical analysis of classmates’ work and thoughtful discussions, students refine their ability to evaluate writing effectively. Enrollment is limited, and proficiency in English and a strong grasp of English grammar are prerequisites.

Location: Online

Cost: $800

Eligibility: Open to all, but students must be proficient in English and have a solid grasp of English grammar.

Application Deadline: Open enrollment

Course Dates: Jan 23 —  Apr 2, 2024

UCLA offers an Introduction to Writing College Essays, split into a two-course series: Part 1 focuses on Brainstorming and Part 2 on Structure and Review. Tailored for aspiring college counselors, advisors, and education professionals, the first part delves into techniques, standards, and ethical considerations pertinent to guiding students through the college essay-writing journey. In the second part, counselors acquire crucial skills necessary for students to craft effective college essays. The course covers various topics, including brainstorming, prompt selection, essay structuring, draft management, and final editing techniques.

Location: Online

Cost: $315 (for one part) and $630 for both

Eligibility: Open to all, but meant for aspiring college counselors, advisors, and other education professionals.

Application Deadline: Rolling Deadlines

Course Dates: Rolling Dates

Duke University’s virtual pre-college writing course helps students develop the skills needed to craft a compelling personal statement for college admissions. Throughout the program, participants will refine their ability to articulate complex ideas and showcase their unique voices. This course is an opportunity to enhance writing proficiency, demonstrate academic prowess, and create an original and impactful personal statement. This foundation aims to distinguish participants and pave the way for success, not just in the admissions process but beyond.

Location: Online

Cost: $795

Eligibility: High school students in grades 9-12

Application Deadline: Apr 1, 2024

Course Dates: 2 weeks, July 7-19, 2024

One bonus opportunity - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you would like to further expand your academic portfolio, you should also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

Trisha Malhotra, an Ashoka University alumna, has 5 years of experience being a freelance writer and currently writes for Lumiere Education. She is passionate about music, reading, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, as well as a devoted cat parent.

Image Source: Duke University seal


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