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College Application Essays: A Step-by-Step Example

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❶Whenever I considered joining a science club, I felt isolated. Ease yourself into the process.

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Step One: The Prompt
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I had been discovered. Twelve-year-old me was sitting at my desk when she came in. One such sample just happened to be a chicken liver or maybe it was a kidney I plucked out of the giblet packet when Mom was making dinner.

I had been keeping the sample in a Petri dish with my other scientific materials on my desk, shaving off a few thin slices every day to examine using my microscope—the best Christmas present I ever received. Is that raw meat? I braced myself for the punishment and the tragic loss of an excellent tissue sample.

But when my mother told me I could continue my research until my materials were gone it was a small liver, after all , I was overjoyed. That microscope was my battery-powered window to a fascinating world no one else could see. Ten times the magnifying power of my naked eye was just okay, but once I cranked the scope up to x, each individual cell suddenly gained definition, its own shape and size in a sea of thousands.

I would stay up hours past my bedtime with my eye pressed to the eyepiece, keeping detailed records and sketches of everything I found in a notebook. My parents eventually bought me a more powerful scope in high school; this one plugged into the wall. As my days filled up with after-school jobs, extracurricular meetings, and choral rehearsals, I missed exploring the minutiae of the world around me.

I relished every class period spent in biology and organic chemistry. 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. At this point you want to look for issues with word choice and sentence structure: A good way to check for weirdness in language is to read the essay out loud. For a hook, this sentence is a little too expository.

Cut this sentence and start with the line of dialogue. I was hoping to ask you some questions about —". No major issues with this sentence. I heard the distinctive click of the person on the other end of the line hanging up, followed by dial tone.

Replace it with a shorter, more evocative description: Whoever was on the other end of the line had hung up. This sentence is kind of long. Some of the phrases "about ready to give up," "get the skinny" are cliche. Eva decides to try to stick more closely to her own perspective: Once you have a final draft, give yourself another week and then go through your essay again.

Read it carefully to make sure nothing seems off and there are no obvious typos or errors. Confirm that you are at or under the word limit. Double check common errors that spell check may not catch, like mixing up affect and effect or misplacing commas. Finally, have two other readers check it as well. The last thing you want is for an admissions officer to be put off by a typo or error.

This is Eva Smith again. Remember back in step one, when we talked about making a chart to keep track of all the different essays you need to write? If you have to tweak a few things or cut out odd words, it will probably still work. The key to keep in mind in when brainstorming for supplemental essays is that you want them to add something new to your application.

Now that you know how to write a college essay, we have a lot more specific resources for you to excel. Read our breakdown of the Common App prompts and our guide to picking the best prompt for you.

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?

Step Two: Brainstorming

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