Seniors: An Exercise to Help with Your Essays

Seniors, how go your essays? If you’re struggling a little, we have an exercise we’ve found to be particularly effective for students whether they’re just starting or working on that fourth or fifth supplement! It’s one of our favorite writing prompts and one we often use when working with students in essay workshops: making a list.


Just sit down at the computer, set a timer for 5 minutes and start writing a list beginning with the prompt:

    I'm really good at…


And to give you a better idea of how this works, we’re sharing our own lists with you.

Here is Robin Mamlet's:

    I'm really good at:

    Envisioning possibility

    Words with Friends

    Being a mom

    Making Panini

    Growing tomatoes


    Drawing out others

    Snuggling with my kids on the couch

            Learning new things


And here is Christine VanDeVelde's take on it:

    I'm really good at:

        Being a parent to my daughter

        Knowing what to do in an emergency

        Explaining and describing things in writing

        Being a loyal friend

        Reading -- mysteries, essays, biographies, memoir

        The New York Times crossword puzzle

        Shopping (Sigh…)

        Connecting people with each other and creating networks

        Wanting to learn more about many things (sometimes called being too  curious)


See? It's not rocket science or Hemingway. Put your pencil to paper or your fingers on the keyboard and simply start putting down the words that are in your head -- any words.  You will notice in your responses that themes will begin to emerge, or personal characteristics and adjectives leap out. That can help you narrow in a bit on who you are and what you might want to say to the admission officers of the colleges to which you're applying. These exercises can also often help you find the heart of things, so that what you say and how you say it can have more impact. Remember, the real subject of each of your essays is you.

With special thanks to John Carpenter and his blog where these lists originally appeared.


For the next couple of weeks, we'll have more essay advice for seniors. And for more on th subject, including advice on essays from deans of admission at Georgetown University, Northern Illinois University, Sarah Lawrence College, and more, please see Chapter 13, "Essays", in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.



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