Brainstorming Your Best College Application Essay

Brainstorming Your Best College Application Essay
College Application Essay Topics to Avoid
So now you have a hodge podge of items, ideas, and feelings starting to surface. Many of you may wonder why you have to dredge out these random things and bare your soul for a college application essay. Well, you don't. But, if you are applying to a competitive college or university, especially a top-tier school, you need to stand out from the mass of other applicants, and one way to do this is with an essay that reveals something about you that the rest of your application doesn't. So, a good question to ponder at this stage is "what should I avoid writing about?" Let's start weeding the garden. Here are some responses you should consider avoiding:
an activity, event, or accomplishment that is explained or highlighted elsewhere in your application, unless it is seriously awesome that it requires further elaboration
-somewhat common events, such as moving or a family member's death or illness, unless this event had a profound impact on you
-A summary of your achievements or accomplishments in a club, sport, or other activity
something about you that your teachers and guidance counselor are likely to write about in their recommendations
-someone else's achievements or experiences
-a unique characteristic of yourself without offering specific evidence

You don't necessarily have to write about an activity or accomplishment just because it is "significant" in everyone else's eyes. Keep in mind that there will be many team captains, valedictorians, and school presidents applying to the same college.

Be wary of looking at that picture of Pop Pop and thinking, "His hard work and example have really influenced me! His life was so interesting." You could fall into the trap of writing a biography of your grandfather without telling the reader HOW he has influenced you and what actions you have taken because of his influence.

Don't discard too much too soon, however. Keep almost everything open for consideration. You never know what pieces might be needed to complete the whole puzzle. Maybe your admiration for your grandfather gets worked into an essay with a different focus, for example. Right now you should be building up a free-flowing list. Don't toss anything that might seem too corny or irrelevant. Sometimes it's that coin collection that inspires the best essay!

What should I write about in a college application essay?

Most college applications include a vague essay question that may ask you about a significant experience, a person who has influenced you, or a challenge you have faced. Our busy lives don't always leave us time for reflection or introspection, and so we are sometimes puzzled when asked about our passions, interests, and strengths. Maybe you know what you've accomplished at school, at work, with your family, or in the community, but you don't know why. Here are some brainstorming questions that can help broaden your thinking:

* What events have had an impact on your perspective of the world and your role in the world?
* Why do you love what you love? Why do you hate what you hate?
* What experiences or moments have sharpened your vision of what you want out of life and from yourself?
* What experiences have made you interested in or passionate about what you do? Why are you interested in these things?
* What has turned your assumptions of the world and yourself upside down?
* What have you done to change the lives of others?
* Is there a hobby or interest you have that reveals your intelligent thinking, curiosity, or compassion?
* How do your activities and experiences connect with your future goals and course of study?

These are just a few of the many probing questions you can ask yourself. Do this while rummaging through those items I suggested you dig out and dust off. Oh, and, please, write it all down!

Getting Organized
To continue brainstorming, consider your life, activities, and accomplishments from all angles. Sometimes when students write about their volunteer work, athletic activities or academic interests, essays can start to sound the same to an admissions counselor. This doesn't mean you have to toss out the idea of writing about your love of biology, but you have to think about it from a unique angle. Start by going through the following list and adding a few ideas for each bullet.

* Academic interests and activities in and out of school
* Intellectual activities, hobbies, or passions
* Any hobbies
* Childhood memories, aspirations, favorite activities, setbacks
* Experiences with family, especially if it highlights your heritage or background
* Any challenges or obstacles you've faced
* Sports or other athletic activities
* Extracurricular activities
* Volunteer work
* Employment
* Travel experiences
* Summer experiences and activities
* Possessions that are significant to you
* People who have influenced you and motivated you to action
* Your strengths, talents, and weaknesses
* Music-related activities
* Take a look at your list and see if anything overlaps. Maybe it was your uncle who gave you your first guitar (after you saw him play all through your childhood), and you used it later in a garage band. This was the stimulus for your passion for music and performance.

Before you reach for the pen to cross something out, draw an arrow instead. Connect your idea to a related idea. Find connections.

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