Hello, college seniors! (Don’t worry, even if you’re not a college senior, you can still read this article). I hope your summer has been going fantabulously. Now that August has finally come, it means CommonApp has released their 2014 applications, and that individual colleges have released their supplements as well. This is the perfect opportunity for you to get ahead on those college essays before you are thrusted into what I’m sure is a very diligent and busy senior year course load.
Like with all great modes of writing, the greatest essays are derived from the greatest outlines. Even before you can even formulate an outline, however, you first need ideas. Because college essays are meant to reflect upon you holistically and can extend throughout many facets as well as time periods of your life, brainstorming will be a crucial step in your college essay writing process. Here are some suggestions for you to check out in order to help you dig deep into your soul and achieve that perfect college essay story.
1. Academics and Extracurriculars
What’s the one thing that you have consistently loved throughout your entire life? The flute you’ve inherited from your mother that you’ve played since you were six years old? Or your town’s local sailing competition that you’ve always fervently been a part of?
Good Example: One of my friends, an artist of 12 years at the time, wrote a poetic narrative of his artistic creations coming to life. Each piece represented a characteristic of himself or a period of his life, building upon one another to lead to a brilliant conclusion. This is a fantastic essay as it allows you to take a unique, creative twist on a generic essay topic, while also revealing a lot about who you are as a person.
Bad Example: One of my other friends wrote an essay about how she wished there were 26 hours in the day instead of 24, so that she would have extra time to do all of the different activities she already does, and more. Blatantly speaking, this is a poor essay as it provides a laundry list of extracurriculars that you have ALREADY provided in your application. You have essentially wasted the precious time and space you were allotted to make a unique and well-rounded portrayal of yourself.
2. Personal Anecdotes and Life Stories
The great thing about personal anecdotes is that they are truly unique to yourself. Many people can share the same passion of art, music, or community service, but the experiences you have held throughout life are yours and yours only. Keep in mind, however, that essays containing personal anecdotes MUST portray a positive attitude, whether the story in itself is tragic or consists of a happy ending.
Good Example: A girl from my school had no siblings, and her father was not in the picture (due to circumstances which I do not know). Her mother faced many illnesses, and required constant attention by her daughter, whether it be general caretaking, driving to doctor visits, or the like. She explained that she never viewed these circumstances as a burden, as she was allowed to become close to the only family she had, despite losing her chances of having the typical “high school years.”
Bad Example: A girl wrote about being forced to take care of her ailing grandmother every day after school because her parents had to work constantly to make ends meet. She talked about college being the opportunity for her to escape her misfortunate environment. Although we can clearly see that this girl certainly faced serious difficulties and has good reasons for her pessimistic worldview, your college admissions officers will want to see a “lesson learned” or a “life turned for the better” conclusion out of your story, whether it is genuine or not.
3. External Influences and “Childhood Heroes”
Sometimes, other people are the inspiration that shape who you are today. Whether it be a blood relative, a fictional character, or a pop culture sensation, it can be anyone! Just be careful and realize that some influencers (especially nonfiction icons) lead their own personal and ever-evolving lives that may not always serve as the best indicator of someone who has had a meaningful impact on yours.
Good Example: Your mother is probably the most commonly used influencer. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. One of my friends from Duke University wrote a hilarious checklist-like college essay comparing his mother to the all-too-famous “tiger mom” Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
Bad Example: Political figures. For some reason, every person that I have helped with college essays wants to write about Hillary Clinton. The two issues with that is first off, regardless of the objective accomplishments of Mrs. Clinton, it is irrelevant to the subjective biases that your reader may or may not hold about her. However, the bigger issue is that a political figure who is so far distanced from your personal life is less likely to have a deep impact on your individuality.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a risk. Because what is life without some risks? (I don’t mean to encourage y’all to gamble your futures away, just to be clear). There is no recipe for creativity, and there certainly is no guideline either. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But in every loss is a lesson learned, and that is a victory in and of itself.
At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily about what you present, but about how you present it. Starting early grants you the time to make the presentation of your essay as clear and creative as possible, maximizing your chances of college acceptances. So don’t be a lazy bum!