How to brainstorm and write an excellent college essay in a crunch!

Did you know, on average, an admissions officer may spend 4-7 minutes reading your kid’s application the first time through?

Writing a college essay is hard. Very few students go into the writing process “pumped” to sit in front of a computer to tell a story. It's part laborious, oftentimes frustrating and occasionally embarrassing. The most common thing I hear is “I don't know what to write!” and then it becomes my job to help the student to brainstorm and believe in the idea that we have thought of together. 

Know what's far easier? Documenting life. Instead of trying to devise some cleverly creative epiphany that they think will change the landscape of college admissions and help them get into the college of their dreams, students should simply share what has happened in their lives or what is happening. Documenting is the key to storytelling. College essays are not supposed to be imaginative per se, but rather revealing. This is what colleges want and this is what your story or child’s story is all about.

  • Tell their unique story
  • Be real and authentic
  • Share details about something not already in their application

The purpose of a college application is for a student to “introduce” themselves to a college in their own words. Most applicants will never meet the admissions officer who reads their file, thus the essay is a chance to hear directly from the student. This is why choosing the right topic, brainstorming and having an awesome opening line to “hook” the reader is so important. 

With so much at stake and so little time, your child’s essay must literally shock the admissions officer into wanting to know more. I am a big believer in the importance and power of opening lines. Here are some of my favorites from our kids in the past:

“Getting kicked in the mouth is not fun.  Especially when receiving the kick from a Brazilian 5th-degree black belt who had been fighting to win a spot on his homeland’s Olympic team.”

“I have to break up with my twin sister.  After seventeen years of being joined in every activity, we need to go our separate ways.”  

“I always talk to Uber drivers. Growing up, my mother frequently reminded me that I should not talk to strangers.  However, I disagree.”

“I would rather sing than talk.”

“My hands twitched with excitement on the morning of my ninth birthday party, but not for the reasons one might suspect.” 

All of these opening lines make me want to read more. That’s the goal: intrigue the admissions officer and spark their curiosity.

Oh, and these kids were accepted to Vanderbilt, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, U of Pennsylvania, and U of Southern California, respectively. 

Many parents think that college essays are supposed to be about hardships or overcoming something that most people could not. That does not have to be. Your kids are interesting, curious, introspective and something to share with the world. How they see life is different from anyone else, and that’s how they should reveal who they are.

Things to consider as you brainstorm: 

  • Cultural or familial traditions
  • Something most people do not know about them
  • Places that have special meaning
  • A distinctive characteristic or trait that is rare
  • A mantra or motto that keeps them going
  • An experience that was positively transformative

Please remember that the point of all this is for you to share your ideas with your child. As you do so, please remember these key points: 

  • You nor he/she can tell their entire life story in one essay.
  • The key to telling a story is using vivid descriptions and imagery. 
  • Being too abstract is often too confusing. 
  • Unmasking a deep dark secret is not appropriate. 
  • Honesty is most important. A person does not need a sad life to write an excellent essay. 

Is this helpful? Want me to read their college essay and give you my opinion and suggestions? I’m happy to! Click here and learn how I can help NOW!