How To Start Your College Application Essay

Vermont's finest stands out like your college application essay should.Nearly all college applications will ask of you a statement describing your desires to attend their august institution. The college admissions essay comes in many flavors, but the key is to make yours stand out, much like those whimsical Ben & Jerry’s varieties (Cherry Garcia, anyone?). Vermont’s finest has mastered that skill, and so should you as you ponder: how do I start my college application essay?

The first thing to do is: relax. Clear your mind. Turn off the computer/TV/internet/cell phones/Xbox and whatever else may divert your attention. You need to have Zen-like calm to allow you to apply laser-like focus on the task at hand. No matter what else is going on in your life, set aside some time to come up with a plan to attack your essay challenge. Ideally, as applications come due the fall of senior year, you want to start working on this several months beforehand in order to draft several versions and incorporate any feedback. Set aside a few hours per week to brainstorm and draft your essay, as well as work on those revisions.

So, you cleared aside some time, turned off your distractions, and now it’s time to think and you see in your mind’s eye… blank. Nothing. Zero, zilch, nada. The page is as blank as it was before, possibly even blanker. Never fear – that’s okay! Personal statements are labors of love, not something you can whip out on a whim. Take a step back and do some research. There are many books on writing your essay with plentiful examples to help you along. Go check some out and see what’s possible.

Done? Okay, great, now… forget everything you just read. That’s right – throw it out. Why, you ask? Remember – you want your essay to be original, to stand out, to share your unique voice with the world. Reading example essays should merely be done to give you confidence that it is indeed possible to write an outstanding, memorable personal statement. However, you do not want to fall into the trap of literally re-writing a statement that has already been written. So, how do you avoid this?

Simple: imagine yourself writing a memoir of your life so far. Think about the critical decisions and events that have shaped you. Not everyone is going to have the “I saved a baby from a burning building while volunteering in Kenya for the nonprofit that I founded at age 8 to provide anti-malarial medications to indigent families.” What you want to have is a story that is uniquely your own that reflects not only your own values but what you want to gain out of an educational experience.

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In fact, you likely have had several such meaningful experiences. Start jotting them down, but don’t worry just yet about writing a full-fledged essay. The college application essay writing process is an evolution, not a revolution. It will take time to grow and come into its own shape.

We will get into the actual writing of the essay and its editing in a future post, but to summarize so far, make sure you:

  • Clear your mind
  • Make a schedule of how you will work on your essay
  • Research approaches to essay writing and sample college application essays
  • Think about meaningful personal experiences that have shaped your life
  • Jot down ideas for potential themes in your essay

If you are able to do all this by the end of the summer before your senior year, you are well along your way to writing a superlative college admissions application essay.

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