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Step One: Find the Prompt

❶What experience, talent, interest or other quirk do you have that you might want to share with colleges? In general, this information does not identify You personally.

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Step One: The Prompt
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Not everyone is an English-class whiz-kid, after all. Your application will almost always give you some sort of prompt to write about. Different prompts will call for different brainstorming sessions. It could be a parental figure, a teacher, a celebrity, a past inventor, or even a fictional character just make sure you follow the rules of the prompt.

At this point in the process, just write down everything that pops into your brain. Nothing is set in stone yet. Whatever comes to you, consider it. Go through each potential topic and think about what material you can get out of it. Start eliminating weaker ideas. Studied hard to get an A in class I struggled with, saved up and worked odd-jobs to pay for a new video game, spent weeks and weeks on an art project that one first prize in a contest—which of these can you write the most about?

Which one taught you a valuable lesson or two? Create bullet points for topics you want to hit in the body paragraphs. Avoid worrying too much about flow, length, or vocabulary just yet, just get your thoughts down on paper.

Step away from your work for a bit to relax your mind and come back with fresh eyes. Re-read your essay and go through to make small edits—re-write sentences to make them flow better, fix any grammatical or spelling errors, make sure things are consistent, etc. Does the structure of your essay make sense and flow well? Do you hit all the points the prompt asked you to make?

Did you talk about everything you wanted to? Or did you ramble a bit too much and muddy the point of the essay? Go through your paper a second time and smooth things out. We can fear, or we can care. For one week at the end of January, Reed students upend the traditional classroom hierarchy and teach classes about any topic they love, academic or otherwise.

What would you teach that would contribute to the Reed community? At least if you love organization. Next up in how to write a college essay: Want to write the perfect college application essay?

Get professional help from PrepScholar. Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now: What are they asking you for? Does the question include more than one part? Are there multiple tasks you need to complete? In cases where you have more than one choice of prompt, does one especially appeal to you? This question is basically asking how your family affected your education, but it offers a number of possible angles.

You can also choose between focusing on positive or negative effects of your family or culture. As you try to think of answers for a prompt, imagine about what you would say if you were asked the question by a friend or during a get-to-know-you icebreaker. Most prompts are general enough that you can come up with an idea and then fit it to the question. What experience, talent, interest or other quirk do you have that you might want to share with colleges?

In other words, what makes you you? Unexpected or slightly unusual topics are often the best: Of course if you have a more serious part of your personal history — the death of a parent, serious illness, or challenging upbringing — you can write about that. But make sure you feel comfortable sharing details of the experience with the admissions committee and that you can separate yourself from it enough to take constructive criticism on your essay.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? The last brainstorming method is to consider whether there are particular personality traits you want to highlight. This approach can feel rather silly, but it can also be very effective. If you were trying to sell yourself to an employer, or maybe even a potential date, how would you do it? Try to think about specific qualities that make you stand out. What are some situations in which you exhibited this trait?

Now you have a list of potential topics, but probably no idea where to start. As you go through your ideas, be discriminating — really think about how each topic could work as an essay. Once you have a bunch of "idea"s, you have to decide which one really stands out.

The essay needs to be personal. Similarly, a lot of students feel like they have to write about a major life event or their most impressive achievement. Mostly, your topic needs to have had a genuine effect on your outlook , whether it taught you something about yourself or significantly shifted your view on something else. Your essay should ultimately have a very narrow focus. This means you either need to have a very specific topic from the beginning or find a specific aspect of a broader topic to focus on.

Instead, you want to find a short anecdote or single idea to explore in depth. Give yourself a week to think about it. She feels more positive about the other three, so she decides to think about them for a couple of days. Then she realizes that she can address the solving a problem prompt by talking about a time she was trying to research a story about the closing of a local movie theater, so she decides to go with that topic.

As I touched on above, the narrower your focus, the easier it will be to write a unique, engaging personal statement. For example, say a student was planning to write about her Outward Bound trip in Yosemite. She described the moment she decided to turn back without reaching the top in detail, while touching on other parts of the climb and trip where appropriate.

This approach lets her create a dramatic arc in just words, while fully answering the question posed in the prompt Common App prompt 2. Depending on your topic, it might make more sense to build your essay around an especially meaningful object, relationship, or idea. Rather than discussing a single incident, she could tell the story of her trip through her ongoing struggle with the boots: A structure like this one can be trickier than the more straightforward anecdote approach , but it can also make for an engaging and different essay.

To be fair, even trying to climb Half Dome takes some serious guts. As such, it can be easy to neglect the reflection part of the personal statement in favor of just telling a story.

Start in the middle of the action. Instead start right where your story starts to get interesting. Briefly explain what the situation is. Explain what you learned. The last step is to tie everything together and bring home the main point of your story: The key to this type of structure is to create narrative tension — you want your reader to be wondering what happens next. A second approach is the thematic structure, which is based on returning to a key idea or object again and again like the boots example above:.

Also remember to elucidate why these moments were important to you. Revisit the main idea. Your essay has to be built step-by-step, just like this building. For her essay, Eva decides to use the compressed narrative structure to tell the story of how she tried and failed to report on the closing of a historic movie theater:. You will have to rewrite, so trying to get everything perfect is both frustrating and futile. Everyone has their own writing process. Maybe you feel more comfortable sitting down and writing the whole draft from beginning to end in one go.

Maybe you jump around, writing a little bit here and a little there. Extensive editing and rewriting is vital to crafting an effective personal statement. Also keep in mind that, at this point in the process, the goal is just to get your ideas down. Instead, focus on including lots of specific details and emphasizing how your topic has affected you, since these aspects are vital to a compelling essay.

One part of the essay you do want to pay special attention to is the introduction. But how do you craft one? Daniel J Shinnick , Connecticut College. Anonymous , University of Virginia. In the first, the game is already mostly over, and as we later find out, his sister is undergoing brain surgery the next day. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? This type of intro sets up what the essay is going to talk about in a slightly unexpected way. The key to this type of intro is detail.

Neha , Johns Hopkins University. The second draws the reader in by adopting a conversational and irreverent tone with asides like "if you ask me" and "This may or may not be a coincidence. Instead, focus on trying to include all of the details you can think of about your topic , which will make it easier to decide what you really need to include when you edit.

You may also need to reconsider your topic or approach if you find yourself struggling to fill space, since this usually indicates a topic that lacks a specific focus. I dialed the phone number for the fourth time that week. I was hoping to ask you some questions about —" I heard the distinctive click of the person on the other end of the line hanging up, followed by dial tone.

I was about ready to give up: No one writes a perfect first draft. Before you start editing, put your essay aside for a week or so. Then, take an initial pass to identify any big picture issues with your essay.

Finally, take another, more detailed look at your essay to fine tune the language. This phase is really about honing your structure and your voice.

Try asking yourself the following questions:. Taking this approach is doing yourself a disservice, however. Check with people whose judgment you trust: Also, keep in mind that many people, even teachers, may not be familiar with what colleges look for in an essay. Your mom, for example, may have never written a personal statement, and even if she did, it was most likely decades ago. After incorporating any helpful feedback you got from others, you should now have a nearly complete draft with a clear arc.

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