Brainstorming College Application Essays
Dread it or love it, college application essays are a crucial aspect in applying to colleges.
Your essay provides an important opportunity for you in the college admissions process, bringing a one-dimensional application to life and differentiating you from other applicants. Particularly for the more selective schools, your college application essays carry as much weight, if not more, than your GPA or your scores on the standardized tests.
Often, the most difficult part of writing your essay is getting started.
Often, the most difficult part of writing your essay is getting started. Homing in on a compelling topic can seem overwhelming, so the simplest way to jump-start this undertaking is making lists that illuminate your various attributes.
How to start brainstorming an essay topic
In drawing up your lists, first focus on the following three categories:
- What types of things do you love to do? This is the best place to start. Do you love to play board games? Sing? Garden? Whatever your interests are—no matter how seemingly mundane—write them down. You’ll be surprised at how easily everything flows out of you.
- What are some selfless acts you’ve performed? Selflessness is always good when it comes to college essays. Do you regularly volunteer somewhere, such as at an animal shelter or an assisted-living facility? Do you help to take care of a younger sibling at home? Do you assist with an aging grandparent? Think of everything you do to help others.
- What makes you unique? There are several facets to this category, beginning with a unique talent. Are you a lefty pitcher who throws a wicked curveball? Have you ever designed a video game? Do you play the oboe? Not many people, after all, play the oboe.
Secondly, think about unique experiences you’ve had, regardless of whether they’ve been planned or unplanned. Have you traveled to an exotic locale? Has your family taken an RV trip around the United States? Have you camped under the stars in the desert? As for the unplanned, have you been pulled up onstage at a concert? Have you caught a foul ball at a major league baseball game?
Lastly, consider anything that may have triggered a “crisis mode” for your college application essays. Have you ever helped someone in dire need? Have you saved a life? Have you rescued a kitten? Remember, no good deed is insignificant.
Essay areas to avoid
When making your lists, there are certain areas to avoid, or at least approach with caution. Essays centered on sports-related injuries or service trips you’ve gone on tend to be overdone, and admissions counselors might roll their eyes at them. Furthermore, you don’t know what type of person will be reading your essay, so it’s smart to steer clear of hot-button issues such as politics or religion. On the other hand, if the experience is something you’re extremely passionate about and defines you as a person, such as a March for Life rally you attended, go for it. Just know that you’re assuming a bit of a risk.
The admissions counselor should come away from your essay knowing who you are and how you are going to impact the campus in a positive way.
Consider your initial brainstorming lists to be roadmaps. Once they’re completed, you’ll have a clearer sense of how to reach your final objective: writing an essay that tells a captivating story about what you’ve learned about yourself and how you’ve influenced the world around you. The admissions counselor should come away from your essay knowing who you are and how you are going to impact the campus in a positive way. Will you be a caring member of the college community? Will you be a leader? Your essay should be the next-best thing to meeting you in person.
Kendall Hayes is a college counselor at Partners For Achievement. Read more about Hayes and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.