One of the most important aspects of any college application is the personal statement.
For many students, this is also the most challenging. But it doesn’t have to be!
Write Early, Write Often.
Sure, you can wait until October or November and go into essay-writing cold; or you can start getting warmed up early.
And when better to warm up than in summer?
The summer writing exercises below will help you stretch out those writing muscles and get into the application mindset in July and August – which will lead to better essays (and less writer’s block) in the fall!
Here are a few tips.
1. Record your experiences.
When you stand at the top of Mt. Washington at the end of a long and dangerous hike, drinking coffee and enjoying the sunset, you’re sure you’ll remember the moment forever. Or at least for three months.
In truth, details fade quickly and often disappear completely when you’re trying to remember them for an essay.
So when meaningful things happen in your life, write them down. A few raw ideas jotted down on how you feel, what you’re thinking, and what you can see and hear and smell can provide enormous freshness and interest to your essays later.
2. Reflect on your experiences
Once you’ve got your raw ideas down cook them up. Regularly reflecting on your experiences will help you develop the tone, the vocabulary, and the thought process required to do so.
For most people, deep reflection doesn’t come naturally – which makes it even smarter to practice during the summer, when you (supposedly) have the free time to do so.
What’s more? If you really put the thought in now, you might be able to take a reflection straight from your journal and plug it into an essay prompt with just a little tweaking to make the fit smooth. Awesome.
3. Loosen up
What was significant about Thursday’s breakfast?
Probably nothing, on the surface, but college essays are all about finding meaning in your life – even if (especially if) your life seems dull and ordinary.
Maybe on Thursday you had Honey Nut Cheerios, just like every other day… because when you find something amazing, you’re passionately committed to it.
Maybe you tried to make yourself an omelet and failed miserably… but you’re going to try again today because you believe in constantly challenging yourself and persevering until you get things right.
The point isn’t that you’ll one day write your college essays about breakfast – or that you should draft an essay after every bowl of cereal. In fact, you don’t really need to write anything down at all for this.
But if you start asking yourself crazy questions like “How did my life change this week?” or “What have I learned from this traffic jam?” you’ll get in the habit of connecting the small stuff with the big picture, and that’s an extremely valuable habit to have, especially when it comes to writing your college admission essay.
So try questions like…
- What does [this TV show] mean to me?
- Why do I believe in [knocking on wood]?
- How does [my t-shirt] reflect my personality?
- What do I love about [Wednesdays]?
It’s not just helpful to think about things this way, it’s fun, and there are a million ways to start getting creative, brainstorming and thinking outside the box about your experiences.
The trick is to just start writing and exploring every day!
About Jon Frank
Jon Frank cofounded Admissionado in 2007 with one goal in mind: to inspire the next generation of students to “go to the best schools they can get into.” He attended Brown University and Harvard Business School and currently lives in Chicago. In his spare time, Jon can be found jet-setting around the world to give speeches (in Asia, especially), indulging in Chicago’s rich selection of ethnic restaurants, or keeping up with politics alongside his trusty cat, Buster Douglas.