How to Write a Distinctive College Essay

1.) BRAINSTORM: Jot down three or four responses to the question, What do you do?

2.) WHY: Pick your (in your opinion alone) favorite response to step 1, then ask yourself why the thing you do is important to you. Then ask yourself why again after each response, to get to a deeper “why.” Repeat until you have five to 10 statements about why the thing you do is important to you.

3.) SENSES: Write around the why responses on your selected topic by adding a lot of sensory detail – the reader of your personal statement needs to hang out with you and see what that the thing you do feels like, looks like, sounds like.

4.) CONTEXT: Imagine telling a new friend you want to impress the full story of what you do. Provide him or her the context your story requires.

5.) PERFECT: Review your work for spelling, grammar, usage, word limit, etc. Ask someone else (not a family member or teacher – try a local librarian, your boss at work, the leader of the program you volunteer for, a professional or volunteer college coach, a community leader, etc.) to read it and repeat back to you what the essay says about you. If your reviewer reads and repeats back what you intended to say, you are probably done!

Allison Deegan, who has a doctorate in education, provides college admissions advising through her consulting company, College App ASAP. She volunteers as leader of the college admissions program for WriteGirl, a creative writing and mentoring program for teen girls in the Los Angeles area.


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