During this step, you must start collecting ideas, which will form the core of your essay. Remember, the college essay is usually asked for so the admission officer(s) can learn about you – so that should be the focus of most of your ideas.
Brainstorm About Your Qualities.
Brainstorming is the process of coming up with ideas spontaneously from free flowing writing or talking. To brainstorm, you can simply sit down with a pen and jot down every idea that comes into your head. Another approach is to simply start writing and see where you end up. Record as much information as you can recall, such as schools attended, courses taken, jobs held, research projects undertaken. Work on taking yourself deeper into the introspection process by tackling more specific topics. Here are some questions you might want to consider:
What am I like? How do my friends characterize me? What are my personality traits? Have I ever experienced a moment of epiphany? Why is (some color) my favorite color? Why is (some movie) my favorite movie? How have my favorites influenced my life?
Make a list of the qualities (positive and negative) which you would use to describe yourself. This first list includes all your strengths, weaknesses, and any other exceptionally strong characteristics. Remember the emphasis of this list should be broad and conceptual in nature – try to list your personality characteristics and traits, not specific events or happenings. For example, you may have “exceptional communication skills” (not “I can make good speeches”).
After this, make a second list of specific events, achievements and happenings of which you are particularly proud. This is a more operational level list of things you’ve done and activities you’ve participated in. Now you have 2 lists, a list of “broad” qualities and a list of “specific” events and achievements.
What have I done? What are my major accomplishments? Why do I consider them accomplishments? What extra curricular activities have I participated in? Have I strived hard for something and achieved it? Why did I succeed? Have I strived hard for something and failed to achieve it? Why did I fail? What was the most difficult time of my life? How did my perspective of life change due to that difficult time? Where do I want to go? What would I most like to be doing right now? Where would I like to be? Who would I most like to be with? What are my dreams for the future? What do I intend to do to achieve these dreams? What will I be doing ten years from now? How does this university fit in my plans for the future?
You can also brainstorm using the following questions:
What might help the evaluating committee in understanding me better? What distinguishes me from other applicants? What are my career aims? What skills do I possess that would improve your chances for success in this field? What has stimulated my interest in this field of study? Why should an admissions committee be interested in me? Why am I interested in this field?
Some other topics are suggested below to stimulate your thinking:
The most memorable experiences. The most influential ideas, people and events in your life. Your likes and dislikes. Your academic, career and personal goals. Your favorite written work, quotations, intellectual activities. The attributes you most respect in others. Times when you have shown leadership, creativity and ingenuity. Times when you have helped others.
You don’t have to cover all the topics stated above. All you have to do is try going from topic to topic and write around three to five items for each question or topic then move on to the next one. You can skip any topic you want to; there is no compulsion. The whole point of this exercise is to generate a mass of information that will help you in selecting your topic for the essay. Try to make your topic focused and broad at the same time, it sounds paradoxical but it’s not.
Repeat the process above, but this time ask your family members, friends and relatives for input and feedback. More often than not, they will be able to show you qualities (good and bad!) about yourself, which you never thought you had.
Link Qualities to Evidence.
Now try to create links between the 2 lists you’ve developed. With the help of these 2 lists, when you start writing the essay you’ll be able to provide “real-world” examples to support and backup the skills and qualities you have laid claim to. Using the previous example, when you claim that you have good “communication skills”, you’ll quickly be able to verify the authenticity of that claim by mentioning how you effectively used those skills to win the state debating championships.
Find Connections & Create an Outline.
Try to group similar ideas together and find further connections between your qualities and achievements. How did you win the state debating championship? Was it really because of your superior communication skills, or did the fact that you are quickly able to analyze and respond to arguments play a more important role? Or was it because you’re a good researcher and have a great ability to absorb information?
Once you have completed the brainstorming process, you’ll have a rough idea of what you actually want to write about. You should now also have the idea of what impression you are seeking to make on the admissions committee. Now, you must confront the problem of selecting the topic that will allow you to synthesize your important personal characteristics and experiences in a coherent whole while simultaneously addressing your desire to attend that particular college.
Selecting the Essay Topic
The key to a strong essay is a good topic. When selecting a topic, you should keep in mind to choose a topic that allows you to demonstrate your skills and individuality, a topic that answers the essay question while telling the reviewers what they really want to know. To begin with, you should first read the essay question carefully and try to understand what the reviewers want to know, keep in mind that essay questions are designed to let the reviewers judge why you should be admitted to that particular college.
There are several different kinds of essay questions. Some of the most common types of essay questions and the purposes behind them are given below:
- Key Influence Questions:Definition: Key influence questions require you to write about something that has a certain influence on your life. This influence can be in form of a person, a movie, an event, some world issue, a work of literature – anything.Ideal response: While responding to this question, you should keep in mind that the influence you decide to write about is just as important as what you intend to write about it. You have to make sure that the influence you choose something valued and casts light on your strengths. Write about how that certain thing has influenced your thoughts, ideas and goals and how it has made an impact on you and made you a better person.
- Goal Questions:Definition: This kind of question can take two forms: it can ask you to directly write about your goals, or it can ask you to write a personal statement that will include your goals and your qualifications. The question usually focuses on academic, career and personal goals.Ideal response: Firstly, you should state your goals clearly. Let the reader know that you have a clearly defined set of goals that you are directed by and that hold utmost importance to you. You may also distinguish between your short and long term goals in the process. Secondly, you should write about how this specific college fits in your plans for achieving your goals.
- Open-ended Questions:Definition: Open-ended questions are non-specific, they do not require you to write about a specific thing rather they can be something like, “Please provide any additional information about you that you would like us to know”. If the open-ended question is optional, don’t feel an obligation to answer, only try to answer it if you really have something important to share with the review committee.Ideal response: If an open-ended question is the only essay question your application includes, you are left with a wide variety of options, you can write anything you wish to. But the most ideal thing to do would be to treat them as key influence or goal questions because these two are the most common types of specific essay questions. You may want to write about more than one thing in the essay, but it is recommended that you decide to write in depth about one certain thing.
- Growth questions:Definition: Personal growth type questions ask you to write about specific things that have been milestones in your growth and how they have helped you grow into the person you are. Some of these questions include: “What is the greatest obstacle you have overcome?” and “What has been your greatest accomplishment?”Ideal response: While responding to a personal growth question, you should be careful not to dwell on the event itself, rather focus on how it has made a difference in your life and turned you in the person you are right now.
- Creative Questions:Definition: Creative questions allow you to express your thoughts and feelings about something – they give you the freedom of expression. Some creative questions can “Choose an issue of international concern and discuss its importance to you” or “Why have you chosen this career?”Ideal response: While responding to creative questions, again, as mentioned before, you should not focus on the issues; rather try to write about how they make a difference to you or why they hold importance for you. Also make sure that you demonstrate within the essay how you can succeed in a competitive college setting without actually mentioning it.Sometimes the topics you choose can be impossible to write about even though they may seem easy at first, and sometimes even boring topics can be made interesting creatively approached. If the answer to any of the following questions is “no” then you really need to rethink your topic and select a new one.Can you offer supporting material in relevance with your essay topic? Will your topic include material different from that already mentioned in the application? Will the admissions officer still remember your topic after having read hundreds of essays? Can you fully answer the question asked of you? Can you keep the reader interested right from the very first word? Can you give personal examples?Never try to write about something that has already been mentioned in your application such as your GPA or your test scores. It is also a very bad idea to write something that you do not feel comfortable with and that does not let your thoughts move in a flow. Also, you should watch out for topics you cannot give concrete personal examples of.While deciding on the topic of your application, keep in mind that you have to keep the reader interested while at the same time, revealing something about yourself in a way that makes you an ideal applicant. It is therefore much more practical to write something about yourself rather than choosing heavy topics such as peace in the Middle East or Life and Death. Watch out for national and international issues because it is very difficult to be well informed. You should focus more on your personal concerns and talk about things that hold meaning for you, rather than just write about what “they want to hear”.If you are planning to make your essay funny and writing it in a humorous way, you have to be very, very careful. It is strongly recommended that you should not try to make your essay funny. Almost always, this is done poorly and not appreciated by the admissions committee. There is nothing worse than not laughing at something that was meant to be funny or amusing.A good essay tells a story about the applicant – it’s not a life history; rather it is a glimpse into the life of the applicant. Treat your essay as a snapshot, each of us has different selves at different times: sometimes we are clowning about, while other times we are demonstrating wisdom. Pick one of your better selves, one that seems interesting, rich with meaning and alive with imagery and write an essay about it. There, doesn’t that sound easy? After you have gathered your thoughts and research and come up with a topic to write about, you are ready to write the first draft of your essay. You may want to break up your essay into different parts by creating an outline before you start writing your essay.
Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. The first and foremost task you are now facing is to decide what you want write in the essay, the essay is very short so you have to be highly selective. You should remember the nature of the audience and decide on two or three main points that you wish to tell the reader. Decide which aspect of yourself do you want to present to the readers and stick to that impression, do not be inconsistent. Each of your paragraphs should deal with one main idea and the essay should be in a logical flow, because the organization of your essay reflects the organization of your mind. It has been repeated over and over again, you should be very careful of using one main idea as the basis of your essay. If you keep on hitting your reader with lots of information, it’s going to end up in information overload – and no admissions officer likes that. Another thing to keep in mind is that you should try to make that one central idea different because if you use one of the hundred most frequent used ideas, you will not be doing anything to help yourself.
The first draft is a preliminary version of your essay and it will always be rough and imperfect and in need of revision. But this essay will contain the ideas that you will carry on till your final draft. To make the task of writing the essay easier, constantly keep in mind the audience it is intended for and what the audience will be looking for. Each essay has four very basic parts:
Title: This is a very vital part of your essay and the first impression the reader gets of you is through the title. Often, most students forget this small, but very important part of the essay that leaves a bad impression on the reader and the essay looks as if it is carelessly written – which of course, does nothing to help your cause.
Thesis: Your thesis is the main idea you are intending to carry throughout the essay. It is the guiding theme that sets your essay tone. In a way, the thesis is a one-sentence answer to your question. You make a claim in your thesis statement and spend the rest of the essay supporting this claim.
How do you come up with a thesis?
Coming up with your thesis requires a great deal of thinking on your part. You should carefully focus on your topic and try to find an angle, which makes it interesting and probably different from what the others will be writing. The thesis statement should be something that people do not usually think about and when they read that line, they are automatically drawn towards the essay to see what it really holds. The thesis statement is the central orienting concept of your essay.
Body: As mentioned before, you write your essay providing evidence supporting your thesis statement. All the evidence and supporting paragraphs you write after your thesis statement are collectively known as the body of your essay.
What should the body contain?
Firstly, your body should support your thesis statement. An essay whose body contradicts its thesis statement is indeed a very bad essay. Start with describing your thesis statement in detail, then go on to provide evidence supporting the claim made in your thesis. Describe how what you are writing about and how it influenced you changed your perception and behavior. While writing the first draft, you do not need to worry about the order you’ll be providing the evidence in: just make sure you know what you’ll be writing about.
Conclusion: Finally, the closing paragraph of your essay is known as the conclusion. The conclusion of your essay provides a link between the thesis statement and the body. Keep in mind that you should never summarize your essay in your conclusion; try to introduce a new idea in the conclusion – an idea that will leave your readers thinking.
How to decide what to write in the conclusion?
Connect your thesis statement with the body of your essay, then go ahead and describe how this turn of events or whatever you have written about relates to you being an ideal applicant, and how does it relate to your decision to apply for college admission. It is a good idea to use rhetorical devices in the conclusion as long as it’s not very overdone. The main point is to connect your changes to your current plans.
There are several types of essays format, which you can use while composing your college essay.
Standard: Traditional and safe, this is the essay style used by most college applicants. Use the important points from your outline and write one paragraph on each point, making sure that you provide plenty of “real world” evidence based upon actual events. Remember, this is your one-way dialogue and you should try to promote qualities or characteristics, which would appeal to the admission officer(s), but are not particularly obvious from the rest of your application.
Focused: In this approach, you focus on a single, powerful, interesting event or characteristic. This works especially well if you’re supposed to write an extremely small essay. A slightly more imaginative approach than the standard essay, this will work well if the single event or topic you write about is exceptionally interesting.
Story: In this type of essay, you employ the narration technique to pen down a short story and dramatic story. Remember to conclude the story with a short explanation of how the story or tale is related to you or has affected you. This approach could be particularly useful is the admission officer(s) are looking for creativity and absorbing writing skills.
Recipe for a Draft – How to kick-start your College Essay
Sometimes the hardest part of writing a college admission essay is just getting started. Here’s a quick exercise to get pen to paper (or keyboard to computer).
Step 1: Think about yourself.
What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your best qualities? Are you a plugger? An intellectual? A creative type? Curious? Passionate? Determined?
Step 2: Choose a positive quality you’d like to convey to the admission committee.
Don’t pick an event or something you’ve done. President of the Nuclear Awareness Club is not a personal quality. Focus on a quality of your mind or of your character. Complete this sentence: “I am a very _________ person.”
Step 3: Tell a story.
Set a timer for 20 minutes. Pretend you’re taking an exam at high school and the question is; “Tell a story about an experience or time when you showed you were a very _________ person.” Use the characteristic you identified in Step 2. Write or type non-stop for 20 minutes; force yourself to keep telling the story and what it reveals until the timer goes DING.
Okay. That’s it. You’ve got a rough draft for your college application essay. Look at the college application forms and see what questions they ask. No matter what the questions are, you’ve already identified the important characteristic you want to convey to each college.
When you’ve composed the first draft of your essay, it’s time to go over it, correct errors, fix omissions, make improvements, and share it with a third party for independent feedback and suggestions. Even though you should bring others’ opinions into consideration, remember that it’s your life, your essay, your career, and you are the best judge of what to include (or not include) in the essay. Keep the following points in mind during the tweaking period:
Give it Some Time.
As mentioned before, development of the essay is an exercise which takes days, if not weeks. Don’t try to complete tweaking in a day or two – give it some time and return to the task after a few days to see if your main idea is what you want it to be. Most probably in the “rest period” you will come up with a couple of points or arguments which you would like to add to your essay or use as a replacement to other ideas.
Similarly, when you share your essay with someone else, don’t expect immediate feedback. Give them a few days to think about what you’ve written (remember to give it to someone who actually give it some thought!) and come to your with suggestions.
After making tons of term papers and reports, most students are used to using big words and sentences to explain theoretical concepts. That will not do. This is a personal essay, so try to simplify and straighten words out as much as possible. Instead of, “One of the greatest issues threatening modern society is the emergence and excessive use of narcotics.” You may write, “Drugs are one of biggest problems facing society”.
Proofread a Million Times.
Come on, I don’t need to explain the significance behind that one, do I? PLEASE proofread a million times and make sure there are no grammatical, typographical, or writing style mistakes.