Each year, I work with many students on their personal statements for colleges, graduate schools, summer programs, and scholarships. In my approach to working with students on their brainstorming and developing an authentic voice that leads to admissions, I advise/encourage/urge students to handwrite their ideas and initial draft. Granted . . . it may seem a bit outdated, but it works every time. . . here’s how. .  .

Handwriting shapes your thinking because you actually have to slow down in the process as you are shaping the letters. As I writer, I still begin my own writings with a pen and paper . . . even my dissertation started by hand! The tactile experience of handwriting is similar in nature to holding a newspaper in your hands to read versus reading a newspaper online. In my own experience as a reader, my visualization of the articles and ads is different when I’m holding print versus when I’m reading online. Those visual cues in print media also help me to remember the story better. Does that happen to you?guidebook to write commonapp essay


Why handwrite

Nevertheless, this online article in The Huffington Post captured my imagination because it explains further the power of handwriting and its importance to learning:

A new study that compared the different brain processes used for writing by hand and typing has found that there are cognitive benefits to putting a pen to paper. These findings give support to the continued teaching of penmanship and handwriting in schools. Children who don’t learn the skill of handwriting, like generations before them had to, may be missing out on an important developmental process. Compared to using two hands to type out letters on a keyboard, writing with one hand uses more complex brain power.Writing is more complicated because it integrates the following three brain processes:

  • Visual: Seeing what is on the paper in front of you.
  • Motor: Using your fine motor skills to actually put the pen to paper and form the letters to make the words.
  • Cognitive: Remembering the shapes of the letters requires a different type of feedback from the brain.

As adults, we know that writing by hand is a much slower process than typing on a keyboard. And we’re all in a hurry to share our every thought with our social networking worlds. But, as an experiment, sit down and write a letter. See how different it feels to actually hold the pen and to have to plan out your thoughts. It’ll be good for your brain. Handwriting may be slower, and there is no spell check, but this is precisely why picking up a pen and writing your thoughts down on paper may actually help you exercise your brain.

amherst college

Amherst’s academic quad

via Why Does Writing Make Us Smarter?.


Recently when I was visiting Amherst College (Freshman retention rate: 96%), I happened into a shop that sold typewriters. (My daughter’s eyes lit up in amazement when she saw these typewriters in their dusted colors.) The owner stated that he continues to have a thriving business among “artists, writers, and poets” because they connect with the feel and sound of the typewriter’s keys. My conversation with him resonated with my own experience as a writer because it’s that same connection that is so powerful about handwriting.


My students have been admitted to colleges such as Amherst, Boston College, Harvard, Stanford, Tufts, Wesleyan and many more. So, handwriting college essays does work. The very first session I have with students to begin their college application essays starts with pen and paper.


Have you found that your writings are different if you start with pen and paper vs a keyboard?

Author: Pamela E

Dr. Pamela has helped thousands of teens attend the college of their choice. She brings her 25 years experience in education to assist families, schools, and employers with college selection, admissions, financial aid, and more. Dr. Pamela holds a PhD from Stanford School of Education, and an MBA from Dartmouth.

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