The following is a guest post written by Anna Carapellotti of Admissionado, a premier college admissions consulting company focused on helping students get into their dream schools.
Summer is almost over, and though you probably had good intentions, maybe you’re not as far along on your college essays as you had hoped. Chances are, you’re not alone. It’s easy to spend days, or weeks even, staring at the blank page (i.e. computer screen). With just a few weeks of summer vacation left (for some of you, anyway!), we decided to put together a few tips to help you find application writing inspiration before the school year ramps up.
Look…inside! (Yourself, that is)
The most important element of a winning college application essay is that it reflects the person writing it — that would be you; not your parents, or your friends, or anyone else for that matter. Your Common App essay, which is a version of the personal statement, should feature some pretty deep introspection that allows the admissions committee to ‘get inside your head’ in a sense. They want to understand what you value, how you approach a problem, what makes you tick, and so on.
In order to help others get to know you through a story of just 650 words, you have to think deeply about how you want to present yourself. And to get that you-ness onto the page, you’re going to have to take a look inside. It may sound cheesy, but it’s really the only way! So forget about what other people have written, or what you think the admissions committee is looking for, and focus on presenting a truly genuine picture of you.
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Read sample essays from reliable sources
Warning: proceed with caution. We are not suggesting that you plagiarize, or that you even write about what some other successful applicant wrote about. But before you sit down to write your college essays, you may find yourself wondering…what does a good one even look like?
Considering how much weight colleges and universities place on the essays these days, it is pretty surprising that there aren’t classes dedicated to this at high schools across the U.S. So, in order to get a taste of what schools are looking for, buy a book or peruse the Internet and see what has worked for other students in the past. In particular, note the variety and how personal most successful essays are. You might find yourself thinking, “I want to meet this person!” And that’s exactly what each admissions officer should think when reading your essay.
The idea of this exercise is not to steal a topic or adopt the specific writing style of another. Rather, you should notice that there are no boundaries. You could seriously write about anything, as long as it helps the reader get to know you.
Read past entries from your own journal, blog, or photo album
So, now that we’ve established that you need to write about you...where do you begin? Oftentimes, student might complain, “There is nothing interesting about me!” But this simply isn’t true! Besides, chances are you and many of your peers have had similar experiences from the shelter of high school. Thus, it’s not so important what you have done; it’s the ‘lens’ through which you see things that we’re interested in uncovering. This is your chance to bring an interesting, cool, new perspective to the table.
In order to do some brainstorming on your past ideas and experiences, take a walk down memory lane by reading through an old journal or some past blog entries. Maybe even flip (or click?) through some old photo albums. Then, make note of whatever topics or former experiences you come across that you feel excited to write about. Perhaps that summer you spent traveling, an athletic event you won, or a recent performance that was meaningful to you.
Once you have a nice list of memories, narrow it down to situations where you recall experiencing some sort of personal growth that is significant to who you are today. And voila! You now have several possible essay topics.
Discover what makes a good story
Now that you have a compelling topic (or two) to write about, how do you begin turning that experience into compelling prose? First, you’ll need to learn the art of storytelling. Luckily, this is a fun art to explore.
You could start by reading, and reading a lot. Novels, short stories — whatever you can get your hands on. Maybe watch your favorite movies as well and consider what about them makes you love the characters so much. A good story draws the reader in and has a clear beginning, middle, and end. The main character (you, in this case) usually grows and develops throughout. Once again, it’s important to remember that there is no one correct answer here; there’s no “right” way to write your story. But whatever you write, it should be coherent, personal, and insightful.
After you’ve taken some tips from the experts, it’s time to sit down and hammer out a draft of your own inner hero’s journey. Happy writing!
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.