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College Application Essay – How to Best Get Started

Now is a great time to get ahead of the game and start working on your college application essay.

While you’ll probably need to write a few essays for your college apps, the best one to work on first is your ‘personal statement’ or main essay. The purpose of your personal statement is to give colleges a better idea of WHO you are, WHAT experiences have been important or significant in your life, and WHY they are relevant or important. It’s especially important that you include extra, unique information.

Take Monica for example, she gets her high school diploma following GED classes so at first, she wants to hide this fact but she shouldn’t because her GED proves that she can work hard and work independently. She even now even volunteers to help other GED students preparing for the test, and this is an important fact. Also if you have a part-time job, mention that.You may even include how your part-time hourly salary compares to a regular monthly income. Think about your story and then follow the five steps below to get started on your college application essay:

1. Take out a piece of paper or create a new doc on your computer.

2. Spend 10-15 minutes and try to jot down:

  • favorite activities
  •  proudest accomplishments
  •  hobbies, interests, and passions

3. Now spend 5 minutes and try to jot down:

  • favorite memory
  • happiest moment
  • most challenging experience

4. Finally, try to think about words to describe yourself (this one can be kind of hard- but go ahead and brag a bit):

  • What are the traits that define you?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • How would your parents describe you?
  • What do you like the most about yourself?

5. Now, look at everything you wrote down. Look for any trends or patterns. Circle or highlight the most important things.

And that’s it! You have taken the first (and most difficult) step to writing your college essay. Next step (I’ll walk you through this next week) – begin describing each of the activities, experiences, etc. And try to connect the words that describe yourself to an activity or experience.

{Part two added a week later}

So last week you brainstormed main themes to talk about in your essay. You wrote down your favorite activities, experiences, memories, challenges, character traits, etc. This week we will expand on these notes to begin creating content for an outline.

Step 1: Choose one of your experiences or activities. I’ll use the example of ‘volunteering at an after-school camp for kids.’

Step 2: Expand on this experience by writing about what you did.

Example: Volunteering at an after-school camp for kids

What I did: Went to Johnson Elementary once a week for four hours after school. Played with the kids on the playground, helped them with arts and crafts, went on a few field trips,  helped them with their homework, read books, told stories

Step 3: Write about why this matters to you.

Why it is important to me. Some of the kids had no friends to play with, and it made them happy to play with me. I love painting and drawing, so it was fun to teach kids how to do it. The field trips were fun and one of the only special activities for many of these children. When I read books to the children, I noticed they listened, and it seemed like they were learning. I told stories about my experiences as a kid, and some of the kids asked me more questions after.

Step 4: Write about what you learned from it.

What I learned from it: I realized that I could make a difference in the lives of these kids by just listening to them. They just want someone to interact with them, teach them things, and listen to what they had to say. Also, I realized that while I am usually pretty shy in front of my peers and adults, I feel comfortable with kids. I want to pursue a job where I can interact with children and help them develop.

Step 5: Write about how to take it further.

How I’ll take it further: I plan to continue volunteering at this camp next summer before I leave for college. Once I go to college, I want to find a similar program near my school and start volunteering there. The biggest issue at this camp is our lack of volunteers. I want to start a community service club at my high school this year where we discuss different projects each week and find students to help out. And once I am in college, I hope to join a similar club or start it!

*Now repeat this process for each primary activity or experience on your list. And that’s it for this week! Next week- how to filter through all this content and start weaving together the most important points.