When writing the college essay, a lot of kids tell us they have Writer’s Block; they sit down to get started and after hours of trying, produce nothing. Don’t worry. You’re not a professional novelist (yet) and you probably don’t have Writer’s Block. You’re just a little stressed and don’t have an idea. So here are some steps you can take to come up with an essay idea:
You know the old adage, “Just showing up is half the battle?” For our purposes, strike out “showing up” and drop in “choosing a topic.” Don’t be discouraged by the pressure of picking the perfect topic. The good news is, by the time you apply for college, you have probably had a very full life and a myriad of experiences from which you can pull stories that say something special about who you are. Don’t worry about trying to pick the “right” topic, because the truth is, there isn’t one.
What Not To Do
There are however, a few topics to avoid. Many people think, “Great. I’m in student government. This is my time to tell the admissions counselors about how I worked tirelessly to produce the homecoming dance on a shoestring budget.” Nope. The time to do that was in your resume and you did it beautifully. Instead, think about the essay as an opportunity to show us something we won’t get from your list of accolades. Instead, tell us who you are and don’t be afraid to get personal—hence why some universities call it the personal essay.
Figure Out What’s Special about You
(Hint: It’s probably a personal characteristic)
This is the part where you dig deep and figure out why people want to be around you. We recommend texting between three and five friends and asking, “what three adjectives describe me?” You might find that a theme starts to emerge.
Think about Why Your Friends Feel That Way
Write down the list of words, or category, that begins to emerge and think about it.You are going to want your college essay to convey these characteristics. Ask yourself why your friends said what they did. Multiple stories might come to mind.
One of our students, Maria, did this exercise. Her friends said she was “loyal,” “helpful,” and “brave.” She remembered a time from childhood around Halloween when she was having a sleepover. They went around the room telling scary stories when they heard a noise from the kitchen. Everyone got up and ran, except for Maria’s friend’s little brother who was too scared to move. Unlike the other kids, Maria hung back to make sure he was okay. Sure, the brother was annoying most of the time, but Maria was helpful and thus, she couldn’t stand the thought of abandoning him. While the others hid, Maria convinced her friend’s brother that it would be fun to go looking for the source of the noise. He was delighted to discover that it had been their pet cat all along.
If you are unsure of which story to choose, ask your friends to help you choose between them. It’s likely that any of them will be good options. Now that you’ve chosen a story, the goal is to develop a personal narrative that conveys your strongest characteristics to the admissions counselor.
Still stuck on the personal essay? We do this professionally. Reach out to us here.