How To Begin A College Admissions Essay
Many college applicants have this picture in their minds that the most successful personal statement essay is something that is well-planned, meticulously-strategized, and flawlessly-executed. That is probably true for a small minority of cases. In the cases of the vast majority of college applicants, the personal statement essay is the product of continuous work. Continuous work? Yes, continuous work; as in, continuously adding on to your essay and then polishing it. Add, polish, add, polish; that’s the sequence. The process may seem ham-fisted, inefficient, and guilty on both counts, but that’s how most students applying to college do their personal statement essays. Why? Normally, when high school students apply for college, they’re going into their senior year. It’s a very hectic year and there’s a lot of pressure. The essay, then, gets pushed to the back burner and many applicants compensate by rationing out work toward the essay. It becomes a long, protracted process.
The best way to begin a college admissions essay is fairly simple: read the question that the colleges that you are applying to are asking. This is a very important step. Many college applicants fail to read the question and end up writing an essay that is completely off the mark. Bad move! It makes you look like you don’t have the right level of reading and comprehension that colleges are looking for. Read the question and figure out exactly the parameters that it’s requiring.
The next step is to unload whatever comes through your mind that remotely answers the question. The better answers are the ones that deal with the question directly. If you don’t have anything that answers the question head on, feel free to ramble and type into your computer whatever comes to mind. Give yourself several days to do this. Look at it as some sort of cleansing experience to clear your brain of anything and everything that deals with the particular question. You will quickly find out that this is also quite therapeutic. As Plato said, “the unexamined life is a life not worth living”. Many people will encounter the truth of this saying at least once in their lives. Turn this into an opportunity to learn more about yourself. Figure out what makes you tick, what you are passionate about, your hopes and dreams, your greatest fears, your aspirations, and more.
Once you have taken a massive brain dump on your computer and given yourself up to a week to sporadically add to that information, the next step is to find an overarching theme through your brain dump. Go through all the stuff you’ve written line by line and try to see what particular theme emerges. Do you see something that looks like an essay on overcoming adversity? Do you see a central quote being the organizing theme of your personal background? Is your story more about transformation from an immature self to a more responsible and mature you? Regardless of any duplication, write down as many themes that come to mind as possible.
Use these three steps to begin your college application essay. The next step, obviously, is to filter the facts so that they can fit into your theme. This is the hardest part of the process. It’s easy to unload and add, but it’s hard to subtract. You have to put a scalpel to your brain dump and start hacking away. Don’t expect your personal statement essay to be flawless at first. It’s a work in progress so keep chipping and polishing until you’re happy with it.
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