Brainstorming the College Application Essay, What to Avoid and How to Stand Out
For the last 10 years, the time I have been working with students on their personal statements, I have witnessed a clear move towards creative nonfiction. That is what the college application essay has become – a piece of experience snazzy enough to entertain, yet savvy enough to share lessons learned. If such a high bar is accomplished your main college essay is your direct line to the Admission Officers – as if you were in the room, selling your candidacy in a non-preachy but oh-so-convincing-manner.
The best essays are the most honest, descriptive and nuanced texts. Therefore, I advise 3 things all students should keep in mind when first approaching their essay.
Know the reader but then forget the reader: Your best bet is to write honestly, always showcasing your best self. Forget what you think the admission officers WANT to hear because that will be a trap to remain safe, unimaginative and like you’re selling out a little bit.
Check in with yourself: what’s your story in images? Here comes the brainstorming part - decide which formative experience, anecdote about your life, ritual or tradition you could describe with sensory driven language…basically I want to hear, smell, taste, feel and then see. The 1-2 anecdotes you pick should have a lot happening outside of your head. Can you capture snippets of conversation? Fun, colorful personalities in your life?
- Avoid clichés: If you can google the phrase, it shouldn’t be in your paper. It’s not about winning or losing, Be the change you want see in the world, I’ve always wanted to study Engineering. Okay, the last one is not technically a cliche; however, what all of these phrases have in common is that they are so pervasive in personal statements you are relinquishing your power of making meaning to the reader. What I mean is – that these phrases are so commonplace that they mean something to everyone. So, admission officers can read into them their own values and principles and not yours.
For a guide to writing your own FIRE personal statement, check out my FREE, YES FREE template. Sign up for my mailing list and you will automatically receive the PDF.
FREE, FREE, FREE – I will continue with a bounty of awesomeness with a CollegeWeek Live chat for students and parents interested in learning more about the admissions process. Log on, ask questions or ghost and silently soak up some knowledge. Either way, I will be giving real time advice and you can all ask questions as we go along.