In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I have guided you on how to structure your creative college essay and where you could look for stylistic inspiration. However, by its very definition, the college essay is a personal response to the most common interview question, “Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
Depending on the college application, the prompts for the personal statement will often be some variant of this question, and thus you can be certain of a two things: The prompt will be broad and it will encourage self-reflection. While some applicants might relish the opportunity to look inward and exercise their creative license, others might be more taken aback or even panicked by such the question.
No matter which end of the spectrum you fall into, there’s absolutely no need to fret. Every high school student has a story to tell and a unique background from which to tell it. Consider this: After living 2 decades, it’s essentially impossible that you haven’t achieved countless interesting things, learned about the world around you, and experienced some of the things that life has to offer. If nothing stands out immediately, here are a few tools you can use to produce some great ideas.
Read any Shakespeare play or watch any Steven Spielberg movie; you’ll notice that the main character always undergoes a transformation in some way. These changes come in various forms and can range from subtle to life altering. It might be a change in perspective or attitude brought on by some powerful experience. It might be a change in extracurricular interests or hobbies. Often the “change” occurs due to hardships, challenges, or moral dilemmas.
Whatever change you may have gone through, discussing personal transformations can be relatable, honest, reflective, and complex. Admissions officers are pining for this when reading your college essay.
You’re a lot different now than you were 10 years ago, 10 months ago, maybe even 10 days ago. So let me pose the question, “how are you different, and what things catalyzed the change?”
Quality arises from quantity:
If you are having trouble coming up with “good” ideas, keep at it. Even if you think you’ve found the golden egg of essay topics, keep thinking. You might have to write a few different personal statements to answer curve ball essay prompts. More importantly, when thinking creatively, you should never settle. Never stop when you think that you’ve arrived at your creative acme.
The more ideas you churn out, the more raw materials you have to work with. Ideas you don’t explicitly use in your essay can come in handy to jog your memory or serve as an anecdote. So, when brainstorming, think outside of the box, never strike down your own ideas, and don’t give up!
To be continued… Happy Writing!
Michael Rothberg is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor. He began tutoring his freshman year of college and is excited to help students conquer the SAT by unlocking their academic potential. Currently a rising sophomore at Harvard University, he is a Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology major and Staff Reporter at the Harvard Crimson.