Getting Started on Your College Essay


“I don’t know how to write about myself.”

“I don’t have any good stories to tell.”

“I don’t know how to answer this question.”

Have you found yourself thinking one — or all — of these statements about your college essays? You’re not alone.

When it comes to answering your college essay questions, you might feel unsure of how to begin. That’s OK! Nearly every high school student gets stuck when it comes to writing their essays. So, how do you get unstuck?

In a word: brainstorming. It’s an excellent way to get going and to feel like you’re making progress. The point of brainstorming is to think of lots of ideas, instead of focusing on one right answer.

Here are some brainstorming techniques for you to try:

Make a list: Write your question at the top of a piece of paper, then jot down words and phrases that are relevant to that topic. For instance, if you’re asked to describe yourself, write down every word that comes to mind, good and bad — friendly, outgoing, stubborn, athletic, and so on.

Use a graphic organizer: Write your question in a circle in the middle of a piece of paper, then branch out from that circle with words and phrases that are related to that topic. With this strategy, it may be easier for you to group similar ideas together.

Talk it out: Discuss your question with a mentor or other trusted adult. You could also ask them to write down the words and phrases you use during your conversation.

And, here are two brainstorming exercises often used by college counselors:

Practice with a character: Think about how you’d talk about a favorite book, TV, or movie character. What words would you use to describe their character, and which of their actions support this description? An alternative would be to answer the essay question as if you were that character — what personal experience would Harry Potter, Eleven, or Black Panther choose to describe who they are? Now, it’s your turn!

Make a match: Divide a piece of paper in half lengthwise. In the left-hand column, write a list of 20+ words or phrases that describe you — for example, organized, competitive, or trustworthy. In the right-hand column, write a list of stories — for example, acing your math midterm, scoring the game-winning goal, or getting your first job — that you’d include in your biography. Next, think about how you felt during those moments in the right-hand column and draw a line to the words or phrases in the left-hand column that correspond to those feelings. Now, you’ll be able to write about yourself using one or two of these important events in your life.

Learn about the three ways to approach common college essay questions over at BigFuture by the College Board.

Read these helpful MyCoalition articles on writing college essays from admissions experts: Pro Tips on Writing Your Personal Statement and How to Write — And Not Write — A College Essay.

And, don’t forget to check out the Coalition Application essay prompts!







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