The title to this article is pretty intimidating. If you’re a college senior (or rising senior) and starting to get serious about going to more selective schools, a good start to writing your essays is to outline and highlight important pieces of your life. You can also polish this outline to use along with your resume when you ask your teachers, coaches, and mentors for recommendations.
Ok, you’re ready to get started? The easiest way is to start from the present and start listing your biggest highlights from high school, some of which will already be on your resume. Then think back further to highlight various aspects of your life. Have you encountered birth or death? Have you led a group of your peers in a petition? Have you started your own business selling lollipops you made at home? Are you your grandma’s favorite? Were you overshadowed by siblings or cousins? Did you argue with your parents about getting serious about swimming instead of tennis?
Next, think back on the little things that have happened in your life that might have impacted you in a big way. What are the inside jokes your friends have about you? Are there stories that your parents tell about you to their friends? Check in with your friends and family and ask them about what they felt were big moments in your life or the highlights of your personality.
Now that you have a good list of highlights, start to think back on each of these moments in your life and write a few phrases about how they made you feel, what you learned, or how it affected your future goals. For some of the moments, you’ll have a hard time articulating, others you’ll realize that they were defining moments in your life. After completing this portion of the exercise, start to prioritize the moments that you’d like to share with the college admissions officers. Mainly, prioritize the moments that truly represent who you are and help to share your unique story with application readers.
Here’s an example of how your outline might look:
-Brother is born (I was age 3)
-I used to watch him in the back of our van as our parents shopped; we always rough housed by I once flipped him so hard that I could tell this was unlike any other time. This is when I realized my responsibility for him.
-Big family dinners each week
-We traveled over an hour each week to visit the family on my dad’s side; with over 15 cousins and still counting
-The inside joke of the family was that my cousin J was super talented, cousin F was a genius, and I was the cutest of them all; took this to heart and found a passion I could work hard at and excel at in my own terms
Now that you’ve put together some important moments and lessons from your personal history, you have a rough outline to work with. As suggested earlier, you can now pick out the pieces that you feel will convey who you are and make you shine to include in your college application essays. However, your application doesn’t include just your essays. With the outline that highlights your life, you have a lot of good information that you can still share with the admissions committee.
Before putting the essays together, it’s time to think about how to strategically piece together an entire application package. As an exercise, make columns for the different components of your application: essays, resume, and interview. With your “highlighting your life” outline, think about how you’d categorize the top 10-15 topics. Is the topic one of the easiest to describe in two sentences or less? Then it’s probably best in your resume. Is it a deep personal philosophy? That might be better suited for one of the essays. Is it about one of your favorite teachers, but doesn’t really fall into something you can write a whole paragraph about? Perhaps save that for the interview since many interviewers ask about your favorite class or teacher.
Many applicants sit down and tackle each component of the application separately, however, the admissions officers will be looking at the whole package – so you should be completing it as a whole package. Take the time to be intentionally strategic about what you want your entire application to convey about you.
College, Graduate School, and Career Coaching.