How to Start a College Admissions Essay

It’s hard to write about yourself. We’re used to it, but you don’t have a lot of practice doing it so it’s probably really hard for you. So, what’s the best way to approach writing an important essay about yourself? Outsource and get help. We’re kidding. Sort of.

When our students are truly stuck we suggest that they create a social experiment of sorts to get their brains ticking. We have them text 3-4 friends and ask their friends to describe them in 3 adjectives. While there is a pretty good chance that you’ll receive some adjectives that are similar, you really just need 1 adjective to spark some thought.

Once you receive the adjectives, think about why your friends might have chosen these adjectives. Write down a 1-2 sentence explanation of where you think they got that adjective from or what might have inspired them to say that about you. A big part of this process is being self-aware and humble, but you’re allowed to self-indulge and reflect during this initial brainstorm phase. In fact, it is crucial that you do. It’s powerful to see all of your adjectives together, so make sure you list them out.

After you’ve come up with your list, look at your adjectives and see what they inspire. Think about your essay as a story and all you have to do is start writing your story from the beginning. Sometimes it helps to write an introduction to your essay that you might not end up using, but purely to get yourself into the mindset of the story. A personal contextualization of sorts, if you will.

Here’s an example for you: we had a student who was utterly at a loss for what to write. We had her text her friends and here’s what they came up with:

  • Strong
  • Confident
  • Brave
  • Competitive
  • Protective
  • Caring
  • Athletic


Of course these adjectives paint a picture of a secure, self-assured, poised person. We dug into each of these adjectives and sussed out stories that could act as examples and specifics displays of these adjectives to come up with the essay that she ended up writing. We focused on the athletic/protective/brave components and fleshed out the essay based on one of those stories. Ultimately, you know how your friends and others perceive you but it’s an entirely different experience asking those around you to be reflective and share these adjectives with you. It ends up being inspiring in every case that we’ve seen.

It’s hard to write about yourself. We totally get it. Every word that you write about yourself seems less than credible and cheesy, but that’s why the essay should end up reading like a story. You’re telling a story to the admissions reader about something that you did and a part of your personality that they wouldn’t be able to decipher from reading your application. Sure, they know that you’re hardworking and intelligent based on your GPA, test scores, and recommendations. But words like “brave,” “caring,” and “strong” are harder to determine.

Your essay marks the start of a big part of the rest of your life: it’s called self-advocacy and you’re going to have to do this forever if you want to continue to succeed and challenge those around you. So take this as an opportunity to advocate on your own behalf and tell a great story that will make the admissions readers want to know you. You’re interesting, nuanced, complex, and compelling. Force them to listen to your story—your story deserves to be heard just as much as the next person and you have to start somewhere. So get to texting your friends.

If you need help or are having trouble figuring out what to do with these 10 or so adjectives, call us. We’re here to help and we love helping our students tell their stories.