3 tips to begin your college essay

There are few things more intimidating than the blinking cursor on a word document when you have a looming deadline for a college application. Given that early decision college applications are usually at the beginning of November, you want to avoid that terrible blink-blink-blink of the cursor in late-October. This is why you want to begin thinking about your college essays well before then. So say it’s fairly early, like the summer after your junior year. You are considering prospective colleges, and you’re beginning to think about the application process fairly early on. What sorts of things do you think about when you begin thinking about your college essay? Here are five suggestions I’ve given to my students:

  1. Take time to pause, relax, and think about your life

Beginning (anything, really) is really the hardest part. This may be what led you to this article, but you shouldn’t rely on Google for brainstorming. Take a walk outside, and think about your life. Drink an iced tea and scan your memory to see if there are any patterns. Think about the 17-or-so years of your life as if it were a novel in English class. What sorts of themes emerge? What are the key symbols, conflicts, and characters? I suggest  some free-associative journaling from events in your life. Begin to think about what chapters, or portion of a chapter might be the most compelling story to tell.

  1. Consider your college essay prompts

Notice that I didn’t put this first. Why? You want to think about who you are, what makes you tick, and what distinguishes you from your peers, before you think about a prompt. You can tailor your own brainstorming about your life later. In January of 2018, the common application announced that they are reusing the same seven application essays prompts from last year. Read through these prompts and listen to your intuition. What question or questions elicit a response from you?

  1. Experiment with beginnings

Here are some ways to begin the actual writing process:

  • With a story
  • Reflect on a quote
  • Present a surprising statistic
  • Define a word
  • Present a problem.

Begin your writing freely and without too much regard for form or structure. Before, I’ve written about using three adjectives that you feel describe you. Maybe you want to choose one of those adjectives and ways in which your character relates to that word. If you can’t think of any words, here are some of my favorites: resilient, intuitive, quirky, courageous, inventive, empathetic, witty. Choose one of these and try telling a story about how you fit this modifier. 

Once you’ve begun your essay, ideas should flow more freely. Contact Mark if you want some help getting started. 

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