Example: High-top tennis shoes, flip-flops, heels, cleats, bunny slippers. Step 3: Add physical details so we can visualize each one. Step 4: Add more details. Maybe tell a story for each. Pro tip: Try connecting each of the 5 to a different value.
Step 5: Expand on each description further and start to connect the ideas to develop them into an essay draft. Grab someone who knows you well e. It can be helpful if they use reflective language and ask lots of questions. Pick 10 of your favorite photos or social media posts and write a short paragraph on each one. What do they say about you? Reading lots of montage example essays that work. Try finding your own.
Have the courage to be original. You can do it. It can feel redundant with your Activities List. One more way to emphasize a value is to combine or disguise it with humor. In each of these examples, the little bit of humor covers the brag.
No need to push this humor thing, though. A: The transitions are the toughest part of this essay type. Fine-tuning them will take some time, so be patient. Highlight the first sentence of each of your paragraphs in bold, then read each one aloud in order. Do they connect, creating a short version of your essay?
If not:. Rewrite the bold sentences so that they do connect i. Rewrite each paragraph so it flows from those bolded sentences. Read them aloud again. Wash, rinse, repeat until the ideas flow together. Parts of yourself that are essential to who you are e.
Your theme could be something mundane like your desk or something everyone can relate to like the concept of home , but make sure that it is elastic i. Each of the values creates an island of your personality and a paragraph for your essay. Review your brainstorming exercises and look for threads that connect different values through different experiences. Choose an order for your examples. Consider describing one example per paragraph. Q: This is hard! What should I do? Remember: be patient.
This takes time. It takes about 20 minutes but do feel free to take longer—more time brainstorming and outlining leads to better, faster writing. And this is a dramatic pause before I tell you the coolest thing about what you just did. You may notice that your completed Feelings and Needs chart maps out a potential structure for your personal statement.
You may not want to spend an entire paragraph describing your feelings, for example, or you may choose to describe your needs in just one sentence. And now that you see how it frames the story, you may want to expand on certain columns. However, the sideways Feelings and Needs chart can help you think about how the chronology of your experiences might translate into a personal statement.
The narrow alleys of Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan where I spent the first 7 years of my life were infiltrated with the stench of blood and helplessness. I grew up with Geo news channel, with graphic images of amputated limbs and the lifeless corpses of uncles, neighbors, and friends. I grew up with hurried visits to the bazaar, my grandmother in her veil and five-year-old me, outrunning spontaneous bomb blasts. On the open rooftop of our home, where the hustle and bustle of the city were loudest, I grew up listening to calls to prayer, funeral announcements, gunshots.
Like the faint scent of mustard oil in my hair, the war followed me to the United States. Here, I was the villain, responsible for causing pain. War followed me to freshman year of high school when I wanted more than anything to start new and check off to-dos in my bullet journal. Every time news of a terror attack spread, I could hear the whispers, visualize the stares.
Instead of mourning victims of horrible crimes, I felt personally responsible, only capable of focusing on my guilt. As media head at my high school, I spend most mornings mastering the art of speaking and writing lighthearted puns into serious announcements. During sophomore year, I found myself in International Human Rights, a summer course at Cornell University that I attended through a local scholarship. I went into class eager to learn about laws that protect freedom and came out knowledgeable about ratified conventions, The International Court of Justice, and the repercussions of the Srebrenica massacre.
To apply our newfound insight, three of my classmates and I founded our own organization dedicated to youth activism and spreading awareness about human rights violations: Fight for Human Rights. Today, we have seven state chapters led by students across the U. S and a chapter in Turkey too. Addressing and acknowledging social issues everywhere is the first step to preventing war.
Earlier this year, through KQED, a Bay Area broadcasting network, I was involved in a youth takeover program, and I co-hosted a Friday news segment about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, the travel ban, and the vaping epidemic. Within a few weeks, my panel and interview were accessible worldwide, watched by my peers in school, and family thousands of miles away in Pakistan.
Although the idea of being so vulnerable initially made me nervous, I soon realized that this vulnerability was essential to my growth. For now, I have everything to be grateful for. War has taught me to recognize the power of representation, to find courage in vulnerability, and best of all, to celebrate humor.
Your word count will be pretty evenly split between the three, so for a word personal statement, ish each. To get a little more nuanced, within those three basic sections, a narrative often has a few specific story beats. Status Quo : The starting point of the story.
It gets us to wonder: Uh-oh … what will they do next? The situation becomes more and more tense, decisions become more important, and our main character has more and more to lose. Moment of Truth : The climax. Often this is when our main character must make a choice. New Status Quo : The denouement or falling action.
This often tells us why the story matters or what our main character has learned. Notice that roughly the first third focuses on the challenges she faced and the effects of those challenges. Roughly the next third focuses on actions she took regarding those challenges. Though she also sprinkles in lessons and insight here. The final third contains lessons and insights she learned through those actions, reflecting on how her experiences have shaped her.
Again, with the caveat that What She Did and What She Learned are somewhat interwoven, and yours likely will be as well. But the middle third is more heavily focused on actions, and the final third more heavily focused on insight. How does the Feelings and Needs Exercise map onto those sections? The details in your Feelings and Needs columns can be spread throughout the essay.
Why not? Take a look:. Challenge 1 : She grows up surrounded by war, which is explicitly stated. Challenge 2 : She comes to the U. Effects : She is ostracized after arriving in the U. Vulnerability creates connection. Here, naming key emotions helps us understand her inner world. Needs : As I read this essay, I can imagine the author needed safety, order, love, respect, reassurance, connection, and many more.
But these are implied by the story events and need not be explicitly stated. In fact, spelling these things out might have made the essay sound weird. That might sound awkward or too obvious, right? At six years old, I stood locked away in the restroom. Regardless, I knew what was happening: my dad was being put under arrest for domestic abuse. Living without a father meant money was tight, mom worked two jobs, and my brother and I took care of each other when she worked.
For a brief period of time the quality of our lives slowly started to improve as our soon-to-be step-dad became an integral part of our family. He paid attention to the needs of my mom, my brother, and me. I cooked, Jose cleaned, I dressed Fernando, Jose put him to bed. We did what we had to do. As undocumented immigrants and with little to no family around us, we had to rely on each other. Fearing that any disclosure of our status would risk deportation, we kept to ourselves when dealing with any financial and medical issues.
I avoided going on certain school trips, and at times I was discouraged to even meet new people. I felt isolated and at times disillusioned; my grades started to slip. Over time, however, I grew determined to improve the quality of life for my family and myself. Without a father figure to teach me the things a father could, I became my own teacher. I learned how to fix a bike, how to swim, and even how to talk to girls.
I became resourceful, fixing shoes with strips of duct tape, and I even found a job to help pay bills. I became as independent as I could to lessen the time and money mom had to spend raising me. I also worked to apply myself constructively in other ways.
These changes inspired me to help others. I became president of the California Scholarship Federation, providing students with information to prepare them for college, while creating opportunities for my peers to play a bigger part in our community. I began tutoring kids, teens, and adults on a variety of subjects ranging from basic English to home improvement and even Calculus. And I have yet to see the person that Fernando will become.
Not because I have to. Because I choose to. First, the author brainstormed the content of his essay using the Feelings and Needs Exercise. Did you spot the elements of that exercise? If not, here they are:. Effects: Author and his brother shared the mental strain, father was arrested, funds were tight, mom worked two jobs, brothers took care of one another, they kept to themselves when dealing with financial and medical issues, avoided going on certain school trips, at times author was discouraged from meeting new people, grades started to slip.
Feelings: Confused yet understanding, anxious, worried, relieved, alone, lost, vulnerable, lonely, disconnected, alone, heartbroken, ashamed, disillusioned. Needs: Order, autonomy, reassurance, growth, safety, understanding, empathy, hope, support, self-acceptance. What He Did About It: Took care of his youngest brother; became his own teacher; learned how to fix a bike, swim, socialize; found a job to help pay bills; improved his grades; broke a school swimming record; learned to play instruments; became the first student in his school to pass the AP Physics 1 exam; took a leadership role in clubs; and tutored and counseled friends and peers.
That was his number one value, by the way. This sounds like autonomy. Another one of his top values. With just minutes of focused work, you can map out your whole story. Next, the author used Narrative Structure to give shape to his essay. Did you spot the Narrative Structure elements? Inciting Incident: While the author is brushing his teeth, his father is arrested for domestic abuse.
Status Quo: His father had hurt his mom physically and mentally, and the author and his brother had shared the mental strain. Raising the Stakes: The entire second and third paragraphs, which describe how living without a father meant money was tight.
Moment of Truth: At his lowest point, he decides to do something about it. And again, notice that those fit within the framework of:. Q: Are there any situations where I may not want to write about my life struggles? A: Yes. Sometimes it can be too difficult to discuss them. Or you may be actively dealing with a challenge. If this is the case, reach out to your counselor, a trusted mentor, or, if possible, a therapist.
If money is an issue i. Many mental health professionals work with clients at low rates or for free. Q: Should I write about mental health challenges? A: Mental health can be very difficult to write about for a few reasons:. If a student is still very much struggling through the challenges they describe, the admission reader may wonder if the student is ready for college.
In some cases, the admission officer may feel that a student is ready for college, but their institution may not be adequately equipped to help them thrive not all colleges have the same kinds of resources, unfortunately. Unfortunately, mental health challenges have become so common these days that many students write personal statements about them, and so it can be difficult to stand out.
Do I have any other topics I could write on? Or must I write about this? Have I truly worked through this? Maybe run your challenge through the Feelings and Needs Exercise to see what surfaces. If I were an admission officer reading this essay, would I feel like this student has their situation handled and they are truly ready for college? Could the mental health challenge be a brief explanation in the Additional Info section?
To see if this might work for you, see how briefly you can describe your mental health challenge using factual bullet points. Important: If you have a counselor, I strongly recommend consulting with them as you decide whether to discuss a mental health challenge in your personal statement.
Talk to them and find out. Q: Are there any situations where I may not want to write about my career in my personal statement … even if I know what it is? A: For sure. Narrative Structure step-by-step recap :. Complete the brainstorming exercises, as these will help no matter which structure you choose. Take special care to complete the Feelings and Needs Exercise, as it will help you outline your essay.
Create an outline using the Narrative Structure described above. Check out my blog for more Narrative Structure examples. Graduate School. Online Courses. Free Resources. College Application Hub. Personal Statement. Supplemental Essays. University of California. College Admissions. Matchlighters Scholarship. College Admission Essentials. College Essay Essentials.
Essay Workshop In A Box. Email Me. Can this person write? Brainstorming your college essay topic. Below are the five exercises I have every student complete before I meet with them: Essence Objects Exercise : 12 min. Download a Copy of the Brainstorming Doc. Would you Rather watch instead? At the start of the essay process, I ask students two questions: Have you faced significant challenges in your life?
Do you want to write about them? Neither is true. Vision for your future? Colleges also understand that not everyone has access to the same set of opportunities. Your geographic location, your socioeconomic status, your family connections , and many other factors have an impact on what you can do during your high school years. Obviously, you should avoid any statements that could be construed as being racist, sexist, classist, or otherwise prejudiced toward any group of people. You should also avoid essay topics that involve obscene language, illegal activities, violence, or graphic subjects.
In addition, you should be aware that under certain circumstances, colleges may be required to report certain crimes, such as child abuse, if they are divulged in an essay or elsewhere in the application. See our post on Notre Dame University for an example of one such policy.
Beyond these boundaries, however, the range of possible topics on which you could potentially write a great essay is extremely broad. As for any essay or paper, there are a variety of practices you might find useful when you start brainstorming about college application essay topics, including freewriting, listing, outlines, and many more. You may have learned about some of these in an English or writing class in the past, and your English teacher may be able to help you use them.
In addition, check out the CollegeVine blog post Where to Begin? Three Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises for some specific suggestions on how to brainstorm for your college essay. One of these prompts might spark an idea in your mind that would also be appropriate for the colleges to which you are applying. Rather, you should choose your topic based primarily on what subject will allow you to write the best essay. The topic you initially like the most may not be the one that allows you to write the best possible essay.
A thoughtful and well-written essay on a topic that might initially seem more mundane will benefit you far more than a dull or poorly-written essay on a more exciting-sounding topic. If you can find meaning and significance in a small incident, that can be incredibly compelling for your readers. Drawing from your ordinary experiences to illustrate a larger point will make your essay all the more personal and revealing.
Remember, the value of your essay is much more in how you write about your experiences than what experiences you write about. Feel free to go back to your brainstormed pool of topics, or even to come up with something new entirely. Just make sure that you have enough time left to develop and edit your new essay appropriately. Want to make sure your essay topic is strong enough? Submit your essay to our free Peer Essay Review and get fast feedback on your college essay. The value of the experience and the point in writing about it lies not necessarily in what happened, but how it affected you, and in how you analyze and consider that effect.
Vivid and evocative details can turn an essay on a seemingly mundane topic into something truly fascinating. The key to writing a strong college application essay is in your delivery. It depends. For more information about choosing and developing a college application essay topic, you can check out the CollegeVine blog for tips and tricks. Our Essay Breakdown posts about how to write the school-specific essays for various top schools contain a wealth of good ideas. Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances?