What part of the college admissions process causes the most anxiety? That’s easy. It’s the essays.
Avoidance is the first-round strategy, typically followed by procrastination, which definitely leads to nagging and additional stress. Then that’s compounded by the pressure of imminent deadlines.
Students are flummoxed by thinking they need to tell their life story in 500 words or less. Or in many cases, they don’t feel they have anything interesting to share in the first place.
What are colleges really trying to find out? They want to get to know you better. Consider the essay as an opportunity to shed some light on who you are and what makes you special. Colleges want to hear about what you’re doing when you’re not in school and not doing homework.
They love to hear about your interests, your passions and even your quirky side. Remember the college admissions staff is building a complete class. They are looking for musicians, leaders, athletes and students who have been committed to community service, etc. Essentially they are replenishing their college campus, and they want to accept students who are going to enrich their community and give back.
So how do you get started writing the college essay?
Start by brainstorming some ideas that are uniquely you. Write down a list of things you’ve done over the past several years (extracurricular activities, employment, religious youth group programs, community service, etc.), and where you’ve gone and/or what you’ve done over the past few summers. Then highlight what you feel are your biggest accomplishments. Ask yourself what you feel sets you apart from other teenagers at your high school.
Interview your friends and family about you. Ask them:
- What is distinctive about you.
- What are their favorite stories about you, even if it was a long time ago.
- What are examples of times when you demonstrated unusual maturity, creativity or selflessness.
Then ask yourself: what do those stories say about you? Be sure to ask them for a few specific adjectives they would use to describe you. See if there are any commonalities among what’s shared and if that leads you to any essay topics.
Here are some additional starter questions:
“Describe a time when I impressed you with the way I solved a problem.”
“Can you remember a time when my support meant something to you?”
“What lessons do you feel I’ve learned? Why?”
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com