Steps for Writing A Memorable College Essay
Written by Rachel Damon, 2014
Seriously, get a piece of paper and do a free association word map of anything you can think of about your topic, it’s ok if it is all over the place and there are lots of tangents, stories, moments etc… feel free to use lots of colors 🙂
2. Make A List…
Bring your word map to the computer/ ipad and make a list of everything you wrote and put like things together (similar stories/ moments/ topics), bullets and lists work great for main topics then stories and sub topics that relate to them.
3. Pick Your Favorite Moment…
From your list pick some of your favorite topics/ stories/ moments and write about them. Be descriptive, make me see what is happening, and how you are thinking… the best essays are slice of life, telling us about a moment or time that struck you.
IMPORTANT: This is a free write, not your essay, like Nike says “JUST DO IT”, don’t worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation or how it sounds… just get your words on paper, this is a pre-rough draft. This might be really long and rambling… that is good.. really good, it will give you lots to choose from and enable you to pull stuff from later to use for your supplement and scholarship essays (My first college essay draft was 7 or 8 pages single spaced… tons of junk, but lots of good stuff I was able to use later. It takes a while to get into the mode of this and your writing gets better as you go AND you remember things and experiences… trust the process.)
The best college essay teaches us something about you and the way you think… this is make or break in competitive college admissions.
You are an individual with really interesting experiences, don’t make your essay sound like everyone else’s. Avoid generic statements and cliche. You want a fresh take on your subject… not something they have read 100’s of times, so find your niche.
You don’t have to save the world or rescue orphans to get into college… talk about your passions and what makes you unique.
4. Copy your entire free write and don’t mess with the original…
there is good stuff in there you can use later (even though it may not seem like it)
Pick your favorite moment or story that jumps off the page, are there parts you can combine… what story are you telling? (This is a good time to get some outside advice on what is more compelling or unique.)
5. Refine Your Story…
Work on refining that story… you need a good hook at the beginning to get the reader engaged. The goal of the essay is for the reader to get a sense of who you are, so show them! This isn’t a school essay topic… it’s a personal statement. Don’t be generic, be yourself! It’s ok to use informal writing styles here… it’s about you.
6. Dig deep…
Really think about how you felt in the moment and make us feel it too… why should we care? Make us care about it. Show us why it’s important to you, don’t just tell us.
7. Keep editing and refining your ideas...
What does the moment tell us about who you are, who you were and who you will become?
Initially it is really important to not worry about the length, completely tell your story and then you can edit it down and help determine what you need and what can go. It is much easier to cut than it is to add and it makes it MUCH stronger in the long run.
A good strategy is to read your essay out loud and see how it sounds (helps you catch editing mistakes and make sure it sounds like you)
8. Not feeling your essay topic?
Not loving it? Go back to your free write and focus on a different moment, use the same strategies from above and rinse and repeat until you get it right.
9. DON’T DELETE ANYTHING!!!!!!!
The paragraph you hate today, might be the perfect beginning or ending for a later version of your essay… just copy and number each draft version (google docs is awesome for this) so you have a record of where you have been.
10. Ask for help…
But don’t let anyone edit out your voice… it needs to sound like you. Sometimes talking with someone about your topic and a fresh perspective can do wonders for your writing.