FIND YOUR IDEAS.

Most great essays are based on experiences common to high school students.  It's our daily life that shapes who we are, rather than rarified experiences.  (You don't need to save the turtles on Fiji to have a great topic).

 

An essay that an admissions officer can relate to will make you likable in a way your grades and test scores cannot.  If you did, in fact, save turtles on Fiji and want to write about it, be sure to fully explain how that experience truly shaped who you are today.  

 

The following techniques for finding ideas have never failed me.  

1

DIG AROUND YOUR ROOM/WALLET/BACKPACK.

Objects tell stories that can be turned into great essays. Consider Maddie's keychain, a tiny plastic replica of  Venus of Willendorf, a sculpture that dates to 25,000 BCE. Seeing Venus in a museum inspired her interest in how women have been depicted in art through the centuries. Maddie used this story for an essay about "a work of art that surprised or challenged you." 

2

THINK ABOUT YOUR ROUTINES.

The things you do with regularity illuminate who you are and invite admissions officers into your world.  Perry wrote about baking bread every Sunday afternoon.  He focused on the half hour he spends kneading dough and thinking 

about the week ahead -- an exam in chem, band practice and writing his college essays .This idea worked perfectly for the question, "Where are you perfectly content?"

3

READ YOUR RESUMÈ.

Think about the past 3 years:  teachers, jobs, summer activities, community service, favorite projects, clubs and  sports.   Spend a few minutes and allow memories to float before you.  Parker wrote about a harrowing incident during a grueling week-long Eagle Scout hike in New Mexico. His decision, as leader of the group, to continue the hike despite flash floods jeopardized their safety. 
  

 

4

READ YOUR UNRESUMÈ.

Your unresumè is a list of everything that's happened since 9th grade that you would never put on a resume: Jot down events, issues, and experiences that relate to your family life, money matters, household chores, your social life, health issues, your faith, and community issues. These areas usually hold at least a few good ideas. Chloe wrote about her best friend suddenly deserting her to spend every Saturday night drinking Four Loko, a malt liquor laced with caffeine that was banned in several states.  

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Thanks to Anna Paez, University of Pennsylvania, '19, for working at my picnic table.

Web design & photo credit: Anna-Elyse Schwabacher