Seniors: Helpful Hints for the Essay and Putting You on Paper

Seniors, last week we offered you a writing exercise to help get you started on your essays -- though we hope that you already have made some headway! Here's what you need to remember as you continue: the real topic is you. Whatever the essay is about on the surface, colleges care what the essay says about you. If you're still looking for the words that put you onto paper, here are some helpful hints:

Put a microscope to your life. Take a look at the little things around you. Go to your room and look at what’s on the walls, what’s under the bed, the things you’ve kept since second grade, or what about the thing you threw away that you really miss now. Where in the house do you spend the most time? Look for inspiration right under your nose. Ask yourself some of these questions:

• How do I spend my time?

• What do I like to do?

• What do I think about most of the time?

• What are the things that truly matter to me?

• What is my family like? Do we have any interesting rituals about dinners or board games or TV shows?

• What would I say about myself if I had to omit any mention of my extracurricular activities?

• When I think about who I am or what I care about, is there a particular day, moment, or event that was important in shaping that?

• If I, like Tom Sawyer, had a chance to eavesdrop at my own funeral, what would people say about me?

• What do I like best about my school?

• If I had a day to do anything I wanted— no school, no work, no homework, no chores— what would I do?

• What do I want this college to know about me?

• What keeps me up at night?

• What drives me, makes me tick?

• What am I most proud of?

Still seeking inspiration? While we're not fans of "essays that worked" whether found on the web or the bookstore shelves, we do believe that reading great first-person essayists -- authors like David Sedaris and Annie Lamott -- can help you find your authentic voice and your story.  And they're terrific reading in any case. You can see our recommended list in an earlier post here.

 

For more on essays, including advice from deans of admission at Georgetown University, Northern Illinois University, and Sarah Lawrence College, please see Chapter 13, "Essays", in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

 

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