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Compelling Storytelling in College Essays

By Molly Walsh - When you begin to plan your college essays, you will start to think about things that have impacted you, changed you, and something unique you have accomplished. These personal experiences, no matter how big or small, are what make you who you are. It’s unrealistic for any college to expect a 16 or 17-year-old to have had a fantastic life experience. So, where do you start? Start with what you know best, yourself.

Everyone has a story to tell. I have been teaching writing for 21 years, and some of the best stories I’ve read have not been life-changing moments. Sure, there is a rare student who truly did experience something incredible, but that is not the norm. Most students struggle to find essay topics. 

One of the most relatable stories I have ever read from a student was about a wasp in her science classroom. The story began with a quiet class taking a quiz and ended in complete chaos! Her classmates were running around the room trying to get rid of the wasp, and the teacher was trying to regain control. The writer was allergic to wasps and was trying to navigate her own situation. The details she added to the story were comical, but it was an event that many people can relate to. Her story was published in the school newspaper and a very popular read!

Remember, the essence of a college essay lies in standing out while staying true to yourself. Don't force humor into your writing if you're more of a serious soul, and likewise, don't try to dazzle with fancy words if you're someone who prefers straightforwardness. What you want is for the admissions folks to catch a glimpse of the real you. Your authentic voice is what will truly resonate with them.

Start by thinking about a time that made you happy, sad, excited, or angry. Picture that instance vividly and jot down everything that comes to mind about the moment. Sometimes, as you delve into one memory, others come rushing in, offering you an array of potential stories to explore.

Still drawing a blank? Take a breather and rewind the tape of your week. Did you hit the store, hang out at the mall, sweat it out at sports practice, or catch a game? Reflect on the little moments, like walks in the park, mundane chores, or heartfelt conversations with neighbors. These seemingly ordinary experiences hold the potential to be extraordinary in your essay. Don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for exciting tidbits unfolding around you. How do you react in certain situations? What comes naturally to you, and what's more of a struggle? These everyday observations might just unveil the perfect essay topic.

Crafting an essay can be quite a challenge, especially when it comes to writing a personal piece for a college application. Kickstart the process by jotting down various ideas, then delve into writing about each one. As you explore, you'll naturally gravitate towards the topic that ignites your passion the most. Remember, the more enthused you are about your writing, the more captivating it will be to your readers!


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