common app essay

The Evolution of a Common App Essay: Tips and Excerpts

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Do choose a topic that you feel strongly about even if people say it’s cliche. A “unique” essay isn’t effective if it comes across as outlandish, unfocused, or worse—contrived; it’s the way you approach a subject that matters, not the subject itself. 
  • Do aim for sincerity over memorability. 
  • Don’t address risky (sensitive) subjects like mental illness or drug use. There’s a fine line between vulnerability and TMI; what strikes a chord with one reader might offend another. Think about how you can communicate similar ideas using different anecdotes. See below.

The Evolution of an Essay

I went through seven drafts from start to finish; this is a shortened (and slightly exaggerated) version of my thought process.  

What’s the most integral part of your identity? 

Anxiety. 

Why? 

My struggle with it has probably shaped me more than anything. 

Okay, too risky. What’s an event you keep revisiting in your mind?

That time when I got caught in a riptide.

Why is it significant? Jot down a few key words/ideas.

Helplessness. Fear. Saving myself. Writing. This became:

Surrounded by yet estranged from humanity, so close to shore yet so far away, I began to despair. The sharp pulse of my fear ebbed into resignation; my kicking and flailing slowed. But almost as soon as I stopped struggling, it dawned on me: all I had to do was tread. From this experience arose my poem “Fujian.” This piece is a memorial of the boundless joy I had felt upon reaching land, an elegy for the arrogant girl who had thought that she was greater than the sea. But it is also a lesson for days to come. Don’t waste energy fighting life’s many storms. Weather them out.

I went through several drafts and changed the topic several times, but noticed a recurring focus on the third idea—overcoming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle by ceasing to struggle. In my first draft, I was only able to swim back to shore after I stopped resisting the tide; in my final draft, I was only able to speak up after setting aside my fear of ridicule:

I think about how I’ve exchanged no more than a few words with my grandfather during the entire trip, fearing that he would rue the foreign lilt of my Mandarin. But silence is too high a price to pay. My aloofness has shielded me not from hurt but from connection; it is the weakest defense, mere child’s armor in a grown-up world. And so I clear my throat, my Mandarin an old tune whose lyrics I am only just recalling, and begin to speak.

call it poetry –

the 150 patchwork characters above your instagram photos and below your profile picture; the 650 words you bled into your common app essay, baptized by midnight tears and shaky fingers on backlit keyboards; the 2 am text you sent your friend when she was sad, which read more like a love song than any top 50 hit; the scribbled words you placed among doodles and integrals on the back of your math test, the ones you almost hesitated to erase before you turned it in. 

call it art –  

that photo of your best friend laughing, even though it’s blurry and his left hand is out of frame; those pancakes, the ones the man at the other booth smirked at you for admiring before eating, laughing harshly before returning to his bitter coffee and significantly underappreciated waffles; the sunsets and sunrises that fill your photo stream, reminders that yesterday was beautiful and tomorrow might be too; the photo of yourself that you can’t decide if you quite like, but can’t delete either, your finger nervously hovering above it. post it. 

call it music –

the laughter of your friends from the other room that makes you smile, even though you missed the joke; the sound of your turn signal clicking, melting into the patter of raindrops on the windshield’s glass; the whistle of the summer wind outside of your old bedroom, the one that promised fairytales and twisters in sleepless childhood nights; the rhythm of your shoes in the empty hallway, reverberating with the sound of your arrival.

it is poetry.

it is art.

it is music. 

it is you.

College applications can be seriously stressful and overwhelming. After going through the process a few months ago and getting into both schools I applied to, I thought I’d share a few tips and a general timeline to shoot for! 

as soon as possible

  • Begin making a list of colleges you’re interested in and researching them.
  • Start thinking about what extracurriculars you want to list; drop the ones you don’t care about to give you more time for the ones you enjoy most. 
  • Think about the teachers that know you the best and ask if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation. 

six months before applications are due

  • Narrow down your list to your top choices only.
    • There’s no point in wasting money applying to colleges you don’t want to go to!
  • Look at the Common App essay prompts and start brainstorming topics.

as soon as applications open

  • Fill out the easy parts of the application – your name, address, etc.
  • Make a list of any fields that you will need help filling out (like if you’re not sure what your advisor’s phone number is).
  • Start rough drafts of your essays, even if you aren’t sure of the topics.

three months before applications are due

  • Nail down essay topics and begin serious revisions.
  • Ask people if they would be willing to proofread your essays.
  • Visit campuses if possible, or speak to an admissions counselor to better tailor your applications to each school.

one month before the due date

  • Send essays to the people that have agreed to go over them.
  • Finish up the questions portion of the application.
  • Enter in actives and have someone proof them.
  • Begin final edits of essays.
  • Contact the teachers that are writing your letters and add them as recommenders on Common App (if that’s what you’re applying through). 

one week before the due date

  • Finalize your essays.
  • Have a parent review your application make sure all the information is accurate. 
  • Make sure all test scores, transcripts, and any other supplemental materials are in order and will be sent on time.
  • Submit your applications as soon as possible so you’re not stressing about getting it in on time!

a few things to keep in mind

  • There’s no right number of schools to apply to.
    • I applied to two, my sister applied to one, and I have friends that applied to ten. Do your research and narrow it down as much as possible to save time and money, but above all make sure that you’re happy with the schools you choose. 
  • Schools want to see applicants that are unique and passionate about something. It’s not so much about finding a student that’s done a million different things and is a member of every club, but finding one that shows dedication and individuality through their application.
  • They can tell the difference between an essay written by a high school senior or college transfer and an adult pretending to be one – don’t ever ever ever hire someone out to write yours for you. 
  • Be creative with extracurriculars if you think you don’t have enough! Everything from babysitting your siblings to coding themes counts.
  • Seriously never underestimate the importance of having other people proofread. You’ve been looking at your essays for so long that you would never catch that one bit of an old sentence sandwiched in between a new one, but someone else will. 
  • Don’t sweat it! You’ve totally got this.
Writing the Common App Essay: Part 3

See part 1part 2, and part 4!

Once you have draft of an essay that you like, it’s time for the hard part: editing and revising. This is the part of the process where you can completely transform your essay, and it’s so important to do thoroughly.

Here are my essay editing tips:

  • Your essay should tell a story. It’s very difficult to write an interesting, engaging essay without a narrative arc of some kind. The prompts lend themselves to this kind of writing, so see what kind of story you can tell! 
  • Make sure your essay is about you. If you’re writing on prompt #4, for example, don’t write about global warming and the threat it poses to society. Instead, write about your passion for protecting the environment and the personal journey you’ve made (or want to make) to help save the world.
  • Conceal the prompt. If you’re answering prompt #2, you should avoid saying things like “I learned from my failure” or “my earlier failure helped me achieve success”. Admissions officers will read thousands of essays like this. Answer the prompt subtly; show, don’t tell.
  • Make a list of the personal qualities you want your essay to convey. Characteristics like resilience or open-mindedness won’t come across in other areas of your application, so make your best qualities known through your writing. Ask friends or family about your distinctive qualities if you’re not sure—sometimes they know you better than you do.
  • Rhetorical devices, particularly imagery and metaphor, are your friends. Look for opportunities to use them in subtle and interesting ways.
  • Make sure your own voice comes through. I found that the best way to do this is to have other people read your essay. Parents, siblings, friends, and teachers who know you well should be able to read your essay and say “yes, this sounds like you”.
  • People will have suggestions when they read your essay. Take everything with a grain of salt; this is your essay, and you don’t have to make every recommended change if you don’t want to.
  • Remember, this isn’t a formal, academic essay. You can (and should) write in the first person, use contractions, and employ everyday diction. You don’t have to use a thesaurus, have a thesis statement, or cite your sources.
  • If you do absolutely nothing else, make sure that your last sentence packs a punch. Go out with a bang and send a strong message!
  • You may end up rewriting most of your essay, and that’s okay. I kept the first two paragraphs of my first draft intact, and completely changed the rest of my essay. If you think you can tell a better, more personal, and more engaging story, by all means go for it. You’ll be much happier with your result!

Good luck, and happy editing :)

if you’d like to go to college in the united states, odds are you’re going to have to write the common app essay a.k.a. the most painful 650 words of your life. here are some tips, tricks, and guidelines to make that slew of words slightly less painful.

  • start over the summer. you’ll be really glad you did when all your friends are scrambling in october and you’re just chillin. it really speeds up the application process, trust me.
  • you don’t have to pick a prompt you love, just one you can give a good answer to. i didn’t like any of the prompts i was given to choose from when i had to write my common app essay. they all felt awkward and kind of clunky to me, and they weren’t things i would have chosen to write about if i’d been given a say in the matter. you may find a prompt you love. write that one. or you may not find one you love. if not, here’s what you should do: rule out the ones you hate, and then come up with essay ideas for the ones you can tolerate. pick your favorite essay idea from that list, and voila, you have an essay you like that’s answering a prompt you’ve been given.
  • answer the prompt’s question. this seems basic. but make sure you do it. and if your prompt has multiple parts to it, make sure you address everything. 
  • you’re telling a story. your common app essay is not an “about me” page. it’s really more of a creative writing piece. you should tell some kind of story. you should be showing, not telling. most people choose to do a combination of narrative and memoir in their essay, but you can play around with your format if you like. people have written one-act plays where all the characters are different aspects of their personality. people have written letters or diary entries. i wrote a news article. if you’re feelin it, then go ahead and be creative with your format.
  • showcase yourself. the college application process is all about you, and so your essay should be about you, too. the admissions rep who reads it should be learning something about you, so figure out what you want to show them about yourself. i would recommend writing about something that shows (not tells - #1 rule of writing right there, i really can’t emphasize it enough) them a unique character trait of yours, like how hardworking you are, how stubborn you are, how much you crave knowledge, how passionate about x you are, how well you bounce back from failure, how you never give up, etc. i personally choose to show everyone how salty, satirical, and funny (well, i think i’m funny) i am. it’s up to you to decide which of your best features you’d like to highlight.
  • talk about something that you haven’t already mentioned in your application. some people in the appblr community (and maybe even your college counselors) will disagree with me on this, but hear me out. your academic transcript and your extracurriculars already tell the admissions reps a lot about you. if you’ve taken the hardest math classes at your school and are a mathlete who goes to math competitions, they know you really like math. you don’t need to go and write an essay about how much you like math. trust me, they’ve figured out that you’re a math person by now. if you’ve told them that you’ve played the piano for twelve years, don’t write an essay about playing the piano. you’ve got a lot of service hours? they get it, you like service, and they’re probably not all the interested in hearing more about it. college admissions reps are always looking to learn new things about you. they know you play soccer, but they don’t know about how you tried to teach your pet turtle to walk on a leash. they know you’re president of cooking club, but they don’t know about how every time you visit your grandma, she has you untangle all of her jewelry because her old, arthritic hands can’t anymore. they don’t know about your love for singing in the shower. they don’t know about how you can never turn down a dare. they don’t know about the hoops your parents made you jump through to get a puppy. use a unique story to highlight that character trait you picked out when you were reading that last bullet point up there that you want everyone to know about. help admissions reps learn something new about you by telling them something new. not only does this help them get a clearer picture of who you are and how good a fit for their school you’d be, but you’ll probably end up with a more original, creative, fresh essay, which will impress reps in itself.

there you have it - a somewhat comprehensive guide that will hopefully make your life a little easier. if you have any questions, need advice, or would like any help with your essays over this summer, feel free to ask me anything!

i’m going into my junior year of high school, the time when many students are getting ready to apply for college. many of my friends and peers have been concerned about what, exactly, they should be doing to prepare this year, and when. so, we held a college information session. this may be geared towards my specific area/region, but hopefully everyone can take something out of this. here are some tips that we learned:

ON COLLEGE VISITS

questions to ask:

  1. what is your freshman retention rate?
  2. what is the percentage of students that graduate in 4 years? (new statistic: ¾ of students don’t; the average student takes 5 ½ years to graduate)

make sure there is written documentation of your visit

when reviewing applications, colleges note “touch points”– these include things like taking an official tour, sending in those cards you get in the mail, or something as easy as emailing one of their admissions counselors with a simple question. they’ll keep your information, and it may give you an advantage over other students because you showed you’re seriously interested in their school. so, even if you’re taking an informal campus tour, make sure to stop in the admissions office and fill out one of those cards with your information. it’ll be added into their system as a touch point– and you’re already one step ahead!

TESTING

some things to remember:

  • the SAT and ACT are, for the most part, equally accepted by colleges.
  • certain schools may require an SAT subject test. make sure to check out programs you’re interested in so that you can prepare all of its requirements.
  • the SAT is a test of aptitude, while the ACT is more knowledge-based and straightforward. 
  • if you’re bright and a good test taker but maybe you don’t get the best grades, the SAT may be more fit for you.
  • if you’re more studious and focused on grades and retaining information you’ve learned in class, the ACT may be a better match. 
  • a guidance counselor recommends: take both tests once, and whichever you feel you performed better on, take it again. 
  • many colleges like to see growth in scores because it shows you’re really working towards something. this may change depending on the selectivity of the school, but consider this before only sending your best score. 
  • if you know what colleges you’re interested in, check and see what they prefer/require before taking the tests. most likely, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, effort, and money in the long run.

SO, WHEN SHOULD I BE DOING ALL OF THIS?

here’s a timeline of what was recommended for your junior year

October: 

  • take the PSAT again (this is the year that you can qualify for NMSQT). i’m not sure if this applies everywhere but i know where i live, this is a requirement.
  • if your school uses Naviance, make sure you have your login information. you should be using the tools it provides to research colleges and find out more about jobs you may be suited for.

November/December

  • take the ACT or SAT. if you’ve already taken the SAT, i suggest taking the ACT before doing the SAT again. 
  • this is around the time you should start visiting colleges if you haven’t already. if you can’t go to schools, look for information sessions and college fairs near you. if you’re on a college’s email list, they’ve likely sent you dates that they offer tours or perhaps are even hosting information sessions closer to you.

April/May/June

  • start asking for letters of recommendation!! many teachers give letters on a first-come-first-serve basis, so get ahead. usually you want to have 2-4 of these. think about programs and schools you may apply for, and think about what subject teachers may be most helpful in your application. also, check schools’ websites and see what they recommend/require. outside letters are also okay, if they’re from someone who knows you and your work ethic well. 
  • consider taking the SAT or ACT again. 
  • schedule your senior year. it’s no longer a time to slack off; colleges now look at your grades as late as third marking period. continue to challenge yourself, but also take electives that interest you to get a better idea of what careers you may want to pursue.
  • get the Common App essays from your guidance counselor. you should at least think about these over the summer to get an idea of what you’ll say in your application essays.

August

  • this is when the Common App is available for that year. many, but not all schools, use this. do your own research to decide if it’s a necessity for you.

MISC. TIPS

  • very few students partake in college interviews anymore. requesting and interview may set you apart from other students (touch point!), but it is definitely not required or even recommended by the vast majority of schools.
  • if you know you will be going to grad school or a higher ed program, think about where you want to concentrate your money. a cheaper but respected undergraduate school may be a great idea to save money for a great graduate school. (you probably don’t care where your doctor went for their undergrad, but where’d they go to med school?)
  • MAKE SURE YOU’RE MEETING YOUR SCHOOL’S GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS.
  • check to see what courses certain colleges recommend you take in high school. this may be a good way to plan the rest of your high school schedule, and also gauge whether or not you can achieve a college’s expectations.

Here’s another one! Threw this together with some tips that my dad gave me when I was writing my Common App essay. I know it’s a bit repetitive about “tell your story” but according to dad (who was on the admissions board for graduate school) it’s crucial that you convey your message in a way that’s both not-boring and informative. Anyway, if you want clarification, feel free to message me! As always, please don’t take credit for this or steal it because I literally spent forever on this.

PS if you want to see how exactly I made this, keep an eye out for a surprise (it’s a video)! I’m going to start editing the video now so hopefully I’ll have it up within the next hour :)

Why I love the Common App Topics

K I was going through my inbox today (checking college questions and such) when it occurred to me that lo and behold I am late to the party in finding out that they have new Common App essay prompts

So I know this is quite belated but I need a moment of your time to fangirl about the potential of these new questions and hopefully in my musings, you’ll be inspired to think about your own essays in a new light. 

Who knows– maybe you’ll figure out a new way to phrase/revise something or be inspired to write another essay for a specific school or realize your essay is even more awesome than you thought it was before 

or maybe you’ll remember that you’re following a girl who is a complete nerd and fails at coolness but makes up for it in geekery 

1) Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

ok the prompt is a little condescending in it’s phrasing, that’s certainly clear. But I think this takes some of the pressure off of the traditional “essay of your choice” topic to allow students to label clearly as one of the most pivotal details that makes them who they are. You know how any good movie is comprised of a monumental moment or change in a protagonists life? 

We watch television to see the day-to-day lives of characters and to become engrossed in their every aspect of them but we watch movies to see the development and self-realization of a character one of the highest/lowest peaks of their lives? 

So picture this–you are narrating the premise of the movie of your life:

what is your movie about?

paint it, analyze it, make your reader become so attached that they want to keep reading on (or at least they’ll remember you months down the line when it matters the most)

2) Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

We can’t all be winners all the time. If we never failed at anything, we would never learn how to pick ourselves back up, adjust to the rising tide, and grow from it. The most interesting and well known people in the world were born of thousands of failures. 

I won’t get too much into it but that actor whose pictures flood your dashboard even as I write (won’t name anyone *cough*jensen*cough*) fails all the time but they’re making a name for themselves and doing great right? 

Right 

You’re exemplifying that you have some decent (albeit it probably sucked at the time) life experience and also showing that you’re a good sport who understands that the world is a series of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey events that all connect with each other and that one failure can lead to a world of new horizons which is what adults want to hear 

seriously they do, apparently employers want people who are team workers and adults tend to be impressed if you can bite the bullet and make the best of a situation w/o making a big deal of it all 

it shows you have humility, are mature enough to undertake the challenge of college, you know how to think critically (all of these prompts exemplify critical thinking skills if you write them well, which is part of the point of you writing them along with making sure you know how to write decently) 

so be interesting, have a good sense of humor and learn how to brush off mistakes and short comings while being able to move on afterwards 

people will like you more in the long run for it. show them why they should already think more of you now

3) Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?


Congrats. If you’re reading this you are most likely moving forward into the realm of higher education (or are actively interested in becoming involved in it). As a full fledged college student, you will one day have the skills and opinions to challenge societal norms and do so eloquently. 

I don’t like how this one is worded either. 

You are totally capable human beings who know what you want in life. Maybe you don’t know what official job title you would like and how your resume will be formatted in five years, but those are semantics that you really can overlook for the time being. 

In this moment, you should know who you are, what you think is essential to a good life, a stable society, a better system of organizing thought and innovation and… well you get the idea. 

After 15+ years of being taught by your instructors what it meant, what it means and what it will mean someday (potentially) to be human, you’ve cultivated your own vision of the world.

You haven’t been sitting there like a lump on a log and obviously not everyone is going to agree with you all the time. Hell, some of them may even insult your intelligence or your ideals. 

If your story of standing by your integrity involves some more heated and discordant conversing than might be appropriate, then the last question on this prompt is giving you a choice: fight or flight. 

Flee and tell explain to colleges that maybe you were immature at the time or rash in your decision to speak up. Prove that you can conduct yourself professionally and will ultimately contribute to their vibrant academic discussions throughout campus. 

OR 

Fight and stand firm by your previous decision to let no one sway your logic and beliefs. WARNING: phrase this respectfully so as not to offend or antagonize any readers who may not agree with your point of view (& remember that as with life in general, you’re not going to please everyone so say what you mean, mean what you say and for god’s sake SAY IT WELL). But this option advocates for your roll as a rebel-rouser who will shake up the culture of their campus but for the better because you are learning why things are done the way they are but changing them because the system doesn’t work to the benefit of others 

Either way you take this part of the question will be fantastic for showing off your “moral fiber" 

which is a super weird term but I tend to find that most well adjusted and kick-ass independent people know not to just sit idle on the side lines when their environment is toxic to them and/or other 

4) Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

this has a ton of potential for really exposing who applicants are at their roots. most of the time people go through life keeping up facades for different people or in different circumstances and to discuss where and how a person is able to be themselves the most and be at their most vulnerable is not only poetic, it’s beautiful in its inherent nuances 

think of any fictional character you have ever loved from a fandom 

you didn’t fall in love with them because you saw them grinding their foes to a pulp while swinging their mighty battle ax 

(well maybe you did but it had a lot more to do with their majesty and less to do with the blood stains adorning their suit) i don’t even know what fandom i’m referring to now, maybe all of them at once?  

anyway you fell in love with the moments when they were alone or with the people that brought out the best in them. the people that kept them going until the end of the day in real life or in spirit with their memory. 

they stopped being powerful or clever or even atrocious and emotionally constipated and became relatable, justified and strong in their shortcomings and ideologies

You are the protagonist, this is your fandom, where do we fall in love with you and why is that?

5) Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

this one gives you an opportunity to narrate your own coming of age story as you perceive it which shows off your analytic and storytelling skills in addition to giving you more creative license with your narrative 

now I know this is the third (maybe forth?) time I’ve discussed writing your own life’s story 

which sounds pretty freaky and surreal and maybe i’m over simplifying it in a pitchy writing style that makes it sound easier than it really is

I mean you’re 18 years old, possibly younger, but assuming that you plan on dying of old age you have a long ways to go before you could write a lengthy memoir with meryl streep or morgan freeman narrating the film adaptation (patrick stewart could do it for you at any age just b/c he’s awesome) 

point being that I get it, the world has always told you that your life really begins when the "real world” does and after hearing that mantra for so long, you’ve kind of come to believe it 

and maybe if you’ve never been involved in a club or had friends, enemies, frenemies, hopes, aspirations and/or fears then maybe you could argue that you have nothing worth saying

but i assure you that if you’ve ever dreamed (more metaphorically but literally also applies too) then you’ve had life experience to base it off of 

growing up doesn’t happen instantly or over night or even in a detectable amount of time 

sometimes you wake up months later and realize that the way you think and choose has shifted and maybe it’s for the better (or worse)

but this change of state in mind is altered by many things. Maybe for the sake of time you need to focus in on one (or a few) events, but everyone has a story to tell. 

Don’t be overly dramatic about it, but there’s a lot of leeway to explore and experiment with your written voice in this topic.

OK it’s 1:30 and I probably sounded as insane as Ashton Kutcher at the TCAs (I’m just exhausted and befuddled by italian homework, I swear) but that’s all I have for you

drop me any and all questions in my inbox and yes, same as last year I am available for essay writing help and revising  

I’m now an incoming freshman heading off to college this fall. I’m very happy to say that I survived the college application and acceptance process. Here are some tips/advice I have for high school seniors applying to college in the U.S. Best of luck to anyone applying this fall! Feel free to drop an ask if you need advice. 

  • Some schools use Common App, others don’t. Visit the college’s official website. If you search them on the Common App and they’re not there, chances are you’ll have to go to another website to apply. 
  • Avoid asking friends to look over your essay. You might feel tempted to ask them for advice. You’re better off asking a teacher for critiques. They’re professionals, and they can help you get your essay in the right direction. I suggest asking English teachers because they’re great when it comes to grammatical errors and the like. 
  • For the Common App essay, keep brainstorming. Keep writing. Keep editing.  I cannot stress this enough. If you feel that your essay isn’t working, toss it out. Don’t waste your time writing something that doesn’t reflect who you are. 
  • Avoid reading other people’s essays. There’s a reason why their prose and topic works for them. Your essay is meant to reflect who you are as an individual. Reading their essays will not help you in writing yours. There’s no formula. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to write about an accomplishment or the time you won something. Don’t write it for them, write it for you. 
  • START EARLY ON ESSAYS. This is not an essay you can write the night before. A majority of colleges view your essay as one of the main factors in your acceptance. This is not something to blow off or take lightly. You need to spend at least a few weeks or more to craft your essay. 
  • Schools will require ADDITIONAL ESSAYS. Check the Common App or an alternative website for these additional essays. They’re often called “supplemental essays.” Make sure you get these extra essays looked over as well!
  • Recommendations. Some colleges require none. Others ask for as many as 3. Most applications ask for a rec from a counselor and teacher. The Common App gives you the option of getting a rec from a non-academic teacher like a coach. 
    • Some teachers get swamped with several requests for a recommendation. Start asking within the first few weeks of school. 
    • The teachers you’re getting recs from should know you very well, they should be familiar with your success as a student and as an overall person. 
    • If you’re planning on asking, the best way to go is by seeing the teacher in person. It’s more genuine and direct. Send an email as last resort. 
  • Own a planner or notebook to keep track of deadlines and tasks. I suggest getting a mini notebook just for college applications. In the notebook, I would write down: deadlines, essays that need to be edited/looked over, colleges you’re applying to, transcripts that need to be sent, etc. Check off tasks when you get them done. Use the calendar for deadlines. 
  • Work on applications during the weekday. It sounds hectic, believe me, but you’ll save yourself the stress. Work on application related tasks every night, whether it’s editing a paragraph of your essay or sending in those AP scores. That way, you can be efficient during the weekday and weekend.
  • DEADLINES ARE DIFFERENT FOR EARLY ACTION, EARLY DECISION, and REGULAR DECISION APPLICANTS. KEEP TRACK OF THESE DEADLINES.
    • Early decision: If you apply early and you get in, you’re automatically binded to that school. You must attend and decline all your other applications to other schools. 
    • Early action: If you apply early and you get in, you don’t have to worry about applying later on. You are not binded to that school. 
    • Regular decision: You apply at the normal deadline. They notify you later than the early applicants. You are not binded to any schools. 
  • Do your research about your colleges, their test score policies, which AP test scores they accept, etc. Your best bet is visiting the college’s official website and/or checking the requirements on Common App. Write these down because colleges ask for different requirements.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a teacher, counselor, Google, a college representative, family, and your friends. They are your greatest assets. I pretty much got the best help from asking my friends because they had older siblings who went through the college app process.
  • Avoid College Confidential. Enough said.
  • Don’t hold back, and don’t give up. I never would have imagined getting into my dream school but I did. You’d be surprised at what you’re capable of as long as you stay true to yourself and work hard.
  • Senior year will take a lot of your time away from friends and family. Make sure to keep in touch with them frequently! Take breaks. Please do not prioritize school before your mental health. Your health is more important.
  • Your test scores are just a number. It does not define your actual intelligence nor does it define your value as a human being. Your scores may not be within the range of the school but it doesn’t mean you won’t get in because of it. That being said, you should still try and study for them. You have the option of taking the ACT/SAT again in senior year. 
  • Your activities and extracurriculars are really important. Colleges want to see what you’re passionate about when you’re not a student in the classroom. They will ask you to list what clubs or activities you’ve been involved in since entering high school. Leadership positions and volunteer hours are wonderful additions.
  • It can get stressful and frustrating, so make sure you space out all the tasks you have to get done. Remember to take breaks, have fun, and relax once in a while. A clear, relaxed mind works better than a mind under severe stress and lack of sleep. 
  • Senioritis is real. You sometimes have to step back and punch senioritis in the face. Even the best students fall prey to this contagious disease. Colleges DO look at your second semester grades, don’t let them slip. Start strong, finish strong. 
    • Senior year is said to be one of the best years of your life. Sure it’s gonna get tough in the beginning but once you’re done, you’re ready to go off to college before you know it. 

Good luck and have a wonderful year! 

My college essay writing process

If anyone’s interested here’s what I do.
1. Look at the prompt
1a. Check if there’s any overlap with previous prompts I’ve written to before: this could mean reusing parts of or whole essays
2. If it’s a fresh prompt you gotta be a big girl. Free write. Don’t be afraid of rambling just let out all of your emotions and ideas in sentence form. Don’t pay attention to the word limit or cohesiveness just go for it.
3. At this point, you’ve probably hit writers block since all your frustration is out. Good. Now go to wordcounttools.com or whatever to see how much bs you’ve written and how much over or under you are of the limit. If you’re under, okay you have space to write more if you want. If over, time to cut it down a bit.
4. Look for any patterns or possible cohesiveness in your essay. See what ideas you can link together and which ones you can take out that are too weak, or offensive, or you just don’t like them or don’t relate to the prompt.
5. Move stuff around. Put like ideas together. Try to have some sort of order to the ideas like a flow.
6. Fix your grammar.
7. Look for an intro body and conclusion to your essay. If there isn’t throw it in.
8. Read it out loud. Does it sound strong and powerful? Does your author’s voice shine through? How do you know? Paste it to Hemingway. Do most of what Hemingway tells you; lose adverbs, more active verbs, less passive voice.
9. Send it to your guidance counselor and ask them to read it and give feedback.
10. Take feedback and fix it.
Try to get the released essays done over the summer. I hope yall get into wherever you’re applying! Let me know if this was helpful.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is a crucial part of your application process. It allows the admissions committee to get to know the “real you” rather than the “paper you”. It is during this part of the application that you need to show what you have not shown in the rest of your application. 

A lot of people make some awful mistakes when writing a personal statement. Things you should keep in mind: 

  • Don’t Sound Arrogant: Yes, this is a personal statement. You are talking about yourself and being confident is a great thing to do. However there is a very thin line between sounding confident and cocky. A lot of the times, that line is defined by the choice of words or syntax you use. There is a difference between “I honestly believe I can be a great addition to your Class of 2017” and “Your college will be lucky to have me”. Same idea, one sounds like a nice person, the there one sounds like a douche. 
  • Show, Don’t Tell: A lot of the times people want to elaborate on some skills that they have not explained throughly in the rest of their application. Maybe, you just mentioned that you took art classes, but the structure of the application did not allow you to explain how has that helped you develop as a person. The personal statement is the perfect place to do that. However, if you do this, please show, don’t tell. I do not mean paste a picture in the middle of your essay (the CA will not allow you to anyway), but what I mean is that you should make the reader be able to picture it on its head. “The softness of clay on my hands made feel free to escape reality and empowered me to create with my own hands my own definition of perfection.” - is very different from - “I am a very amazing artist. I do awesome things with clay that makes me feel free.”  One is more attractive and relatable. The other… eh… not so much. 

  • Stick to the prompt: That should not even be said, but it is fairly easy to be drifted away from the original prompt. You do not want to talk about how awesome your vacation in Lake Titicaca was, if the prompt is asking you for your best quality. Personally I would suggest, looking over the prompts in advance. For the Common App, the prompts are already available. After that, brainstorm some ideas of how you can back each prompt up. The one prompt that you can back up with the most meaningful experiences should be your best bet. 
  • Use your own experiences: That should be obvious. Remember, YOU are applying to college, not your friend’s neighbor’s cousin who knows an albino, vegan, south-east Asian doctor. STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF. Exaggerating your stories is just as bad as making them up or using someone else’s. 
  • Write, Write, Write!!!: The Common App’s guidelines for college essays say that your personal statement should be between 250-650 words. DO NOT just write 250 words. This essay is your chance to shine! It is your time to show what the paper version of you lacks of. PLEASE write as much as possible, and make every word count. People may be tempted to write fluff in between their essays. Guys, this is not your English class. You are not allowed to do that with this essay.
  • Have people read it: I know you all are fantastic people and great writers. But please do not wing an essay. Have your English teacher read it. Have your best friend read it. Have your parents read it. Have a stranger read it. Have people read your essay. I am not talking about only looking for grammar and spelling errors. As much as those are important, you also want your personal essay to sound like you. Who else could help you with that, than the people who are close to you? 

This are a few advices I can give. If you have any question, please feel free to send me a message. I will respond as soon as possible. 

Special thanks to my friend Kiana who helped me out coming up with some of these advices. 

Keep working hard, and don’t give up. That is the only way you can get where you want to be. 

More Personal Statement Advice - DOs and DON'Ts

Do write about something that matters to you

Do keep things positive

Don’t write an essay you wouldn’t want to read

Don’t avoid contractions to the point of awkwardness

Do use strong imagery wherever possible

Do let your personality come through

Don’t start every sentence with “I”

Don’t think that a longer essay means a better essay

Do stay humble

Do stick to the prompt

Don’t be afraid to write unconventionally

Don’t use a thesaurus for every other word

Do stay true to your story

Do get a second (or third or fourth) opinion

Don’t try to make yourself sound impressive

Don’t use your friends as your primary editing assistance 

If I think of any more big ones I’ll stick them on here. Happy writing!

anonymous asked:

What did you write ur common app essay on?

i compared my parents move of leaving their comfortable life in south africa to make a better future in america and kind of linked that to me thinking of how i want to bridge the gap between childhood and young adulthood not only mentally but physically by moving across the country. Blah blah lots of pushing yourself into the “unknown” while still respecting your roots. Except worded not awkwardly like i just did

hermionejean  asked:

do you have any advice for applying to college in general and/or for specifically applying to ivy league colleges? thank you!

Okay, here’s the thing about applying to any college, but especially a highly selective college like an Ivy: it’s all a numbers game. Literally, the admissions office will boil everything you’ve spent the last few years working your ass of for down to a handful of numbers and it sucks, but that’s how it is.

At an Ivy, everyone is going to have your test scores, your grades, and a bunch of extra curriculars. Not that you have to give up hope, hope is good, but it’s something to keep in mind. Still, there are things you can do and some things you can’t control.

  • Some things you just can’t control: race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, your school and state, your parents’ education level. Schools are trying to build a diverse coalition of students from different races, income levels, and parts of the world and being “different” from their normal (read: rich white male and probably northeastern) can help.
    • Don’t lie about this stuff, obviously but if you do have something that makes you more diverse, share a bit about that if you feel comfortable. (My Common App essay was about how my ethnic identity was tied into my inability to speak Spanish, for example.) This especially helps if your school puts special emphasis on their diverse population (*cough*Columbia*cough*)
  • Get good letters of rec. Remember all letters are going to recommend you go this school so pick teachers who know you well enough to help you stand out. Ask teachers who you have more of a personal relationship with. who liked you and had you for multiple years, if possible. If you can, ask teachers in the field of study you would like to pursue, as long as they’re a core class (English, math, history, science, language, etc.)
    •  If you have an arts or music teacher, coach or gifted teacher who knows you very well and can add a more personal touch to your application, submit something from them as a supplemental second or third letter: most schools allow for this. Don’t send more than one though. Two to three letters is enough.
  • If you have one class that’s a little bit more rough than the others (@AP Calc for me this year) try to work for an upward trend in that grade to show you’re dedicated to improving in the places where you struggle. Yeah, you have to have good grades for an Ivy, but they know you aren’t perfect. They just want to see you’re trying.
  • Take advantage of alumni or campus interviews and use them to make yourself seem more human. My Harvard interview was actually a lot of fun: we talked about fake news, fanfiction, being LGBT at Harvard, and a bunch of other stuff. These people see a lot of rote answers that are just people reciting their resumes for an hour. Be polite and polished, don’t be a afraid to brag a little, but be yourself.
    • Also, if you have gaps in your application (example: I couldn’t afford subject tests, which Harvard recommends) this is often your place to explain those. Take advantage of that.
  • Don’t load up on extra curriculars. It’s stressful as hell (speaking from experience here). Instead pick a handful and show dedication to them. Stay with them throughout your high school career and take on leadership roles where you can.

If you have more specific questions, let me know! Hopefully this is a start though. 

i’m literally begging you guys to distract me

hello appblr world!! I recently graduated high school (c/o 2015), and I will be attending Duke University in the fall, hoping to pursue a double major in English and Political Science with a minor in either Psychology or Neuroscience :’) 

applying to colleges was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, so I really want to help out anyone who is now currently feeling those tidal waves of anxiety and panic. my intention is to help and hopefully alleviate any nerves about applying to college (in America)

the summer before my senior year, every time I read the word ‘college’, my heart rate spiked & I started internally freaking out. for me, the whole process was super overwhelming, and my distaste for the education system (specifically, the american education system) quadrupled. I remember feeling incredibly confused and alone because I didn’t know where to start, so here is a lil guide thingy!!! 

THE SUMMER BEFORE SENIOR YEAR: 

  • make sure and finish all your summer assignments – I know that college applications are a strong focus, but get what you’re supposed to do out of the way first + you will feel less overwhelmed and more productive
  • start making a list of colleges that you want to apply for – my best suggestion is to categorize them into safety schools, match schools, and reach schools
    • ref: generally people look at a school’s admitted profile (on the school website) and compare stats, which means gpa, rank, test scores, etc. if you can, it’s also helpful to read into their supplementary essay prompts and examples to give you a general idea of what a college is looking for (ex. UChicago is notoriously known for their quirky supplementary essay prompts; famous past prompts include: Find X, Where’s Waldo?, Why are you here?, What’s so odd about odd numbers?) 
  • do lots of research on schools you’re interested in – ok now I know that reading these long paragraphs on school websites can get really tiring, so try watching some youtube videos or looking the school up on reddit, and be sure to talk to current students to get a first-hand account
    • look at location, diversity, the programs offered in relation to what you’re interested in, size, public vs private institutions, sports, social scene, political affiliations, financial aid offered, study abroad, etc)
  • try and figure out a general field of what you’re interested in – you do NOT need to know what you want to major in, but when you’re applying for colleges, you will most likely need to select an intended major; if not, you will apply as undeclared, which has its advantages and disadvantages!! but even with an intended major, most colleges don’t make you officially select a major until sophomore, sometimes even junior year, so it is okay to not know what you wanna do when you’re 16/17/18!!! but explore and reflect and try and figure out a general field of what you’re interested in. do NOT use your grades as a sole factor in deciding; if you are good at math and have really high grades, that does not necessarily mean that you should be a math major - pursue your passions!! if you know that you like writing and reading, then consider a major in english or literature. if you think you’d like to work with computer software, then consider a major in computer science or computer engineering. ALSO know that there are so many potential majors + even the option to create your own at some universities!! and also know that many people change majors, and that is totally ok :) 
  • in august, common app will open, which is what many colleges use for the application process. certain schools will have specific websites themselves (i.e. MIT, University of California schools, etc) – if you make an account BEFORE august, it will be deleted by then, so be careful!! now, when you make ur account, you can add schools and you can look at their supplements and stuff. be sure and note deadlines!! 

DURING SENIOR YEAR: 

  • keep up with your school work – senioritis is REAL AND ALIVE, my friends. you will think it’s really bad first semester, but then it just explodes into a frenzy of apathy and indifference second semester + you basically don’t care about anything; this is normal, but still try and focus. colleges can rescind their acceptances, altho it’s not likely unless you suddenly fail everything, but overall, it’s just important to still try
  • keep good relations with your teachers (both current teachers and past teachers) & decide on which to ask for a rec – for many schools, they will require at least one teacher recommendation, so you must decide between which teachers you wanna ask. I would advise picking the teachers you’ve always had good relations with, and in a subject where you’re really passionate about learning the material. when asking, be respectful of deadlines (aka don’t ask them to write you a rec two days before the deadline. they are people too), and be sure and say thank you. if you can, make them a card or make/buy them a little gift; I promise you, they’ll appreciate it!! 
    • if the school you’re applying to requires multiple teacher recs: many people advise asking teachers of different subjects to emphasize your well-roundedness – you can do that or you can ask teachers of one subject that you’re really interested in; weigh your options and politely ask. asking teachers can be really scary sometimes, especially if you’re very shy, but they’re there to help you and it’ll all work out :)
  • write a common app essay (if applicable) – common app has 4 prompts that you can choose from, and then you’ll submit that to all the colleges ur applying to thru common app. this is very important. if you’re not a good writer, do not fret!! most of the time, the subject of these essays are very personal. a lot of people write about some trying time in their lives, but plenty of other people write creatively about something small, but important. remember that essays are a way for admission directors to get to know the real you :’) that sounds super cliche, but keep in mind that you are more than ur gpa and ur sat/act score. prove that to them by writing about something you care about
    • if you are ok with it (and it’s totally ok to not be ok with it), ask someone you trust to read over it and edit it. a lot of people ask their language arts teachers just bc they’ll help with grammar and structure, but asking other trusted adults and peers will be helpful too!! keep in mind the potential of bias from parents + friends though 
    • you will most likely write your common app essay multiple times. you will have lots of drafts & it can be really stressful, but patience. you will be so happy when you finally finish 
  • finalize your college list and start writing supplementary essays – many colleges will have supplementary parts to the application on top of common app. this can range from totally separate essays to lil short-answer questions, so be prepared and give yourself plenty of time to write!! just as with your common app essay, getting feedback can be super helpful
    • also remember that many colleges accept arts supplements (this range depends on the college, but I’ve seen colleges accept writing, dance, music, visual art, etc) & these fall under a different deadline, usually. if you want to submit in an art supplement, you may have to submit in your essays and everything earlier 
    • OH ALSO some colleges will have an early decision or early application deadline – this is basically an earlier deadline for ur app in exchange for an earlier decision. be careful on the difference between EA and ED!!! ED is BINDING, which means that if you get in, you have to go (you can get out of it for financial reasons tho), and EA is NONBINDING, which means that even if you get in, you can decide to go to another school
  • submit in your transcript and any test scores you need – different schools have different policies, but most fall under either the SAT + SAT 2 scores OR ACT + writing scores; I would suggest contacting the counseling office asap, but be super nice!! counselors are there to help you through this process, but it can be really overwhelming for them too
    • pay close attention to whether or not ur college requires a counseling rec or not
  • double check everything for small details – some colleges accept peer recs, but sometimes they don’t publicize that detail very much so just be observant! same with priority deadlines for interviews; you may have to submit in your app earlier if you want priority for an interview
  • accept ur interview opportunities – meet with an alumni or go on campus if you can and give an interview!! they’re really helpful sometimes bc it provides the school with a look into who you are as a person, not just as a student. also, from my experience, the alumni are super nice and really interested + it’s nice to just talk and nerd out about the school you like :’) 
  • submit ur apps (hehehe of course!) 
  • apply for scholarships – this is something that I wish I had taken more seriously, but really, college is expensive and scholarships can make all the difference. talk to your counselors if you don’t know where to start & literally just google for them!! be careful you are eligible for the ones you’re interested in and make sure you submit everything in by the deadline too 

AFTER SUBMITTING YOUR APPLICATIONS:

  • distract yourself like crazy – the wait is horrible and the anticipation is killer, if you’re anything like me at least. hang out with your friends and just enjoy your senior year!! this is the last of high school & i promise you that as much as you may hate it (if you do hate it), you will feel bittersweet by the end of the year. so make memories and make the best out of the time you have left in high school 
  • check your email – colleges oftentimes send you emails if they need you to send them anything more, or they’ll update you about things. they’ll usually also email you with where you need to go to check your decision
  • don’t let the senioritis take over ur soul 

RECEIVING YOUR DECISIONS: 

  • acceptances – YAY CONGRATULATIONS!!! be proud of yourself and know that you deserve it 100000%, wholeheartedly. they did not make a mistake, and you ARE that amazing. celebrate your accomplishment, but also be humble. it’s likely that you have a friend that either got waitlisted or denied, so be careful what you say 
  • rejections – i’m sorry, my dear!! but you are not meant to be at that school, and that is okay. even if it is your dream school. this does not reflect ur self-worth & this def does not mean that you aren’t good enough. this simply means you aren’t a good fit for the school!! most people have to deal with rejections, so take some time for yourself. eat some comfort food and watch some tv. read a book if that relaxes you. take a bath with lots of bubbles. do whatever is necessary to cleanse yourself of any negative thoughts you may have, and then realize that you can accomplish SO much wherever you end up!! UR A BRILLIANT SHINING STAR & I HAVE FAITH IN YOU :’)
  • waitlisted – being waitlisted (or deferred during EA/ED, which basically pushed you back to the regular decision time) sucks so much bc you just want to know; take a deep breath and consider all your options. make backup plans. if you’re really interested in the school, email them and tell them that!! make sure if you want to be on the waitlist, that you notify them of that (usually via mail or online somehow). if you don’t wanna be on the waitlist, make sure you take yourself off so you give everyone else a better chance :) 
  • weigh your options through careful, careful consideration – there are so many factors that may come into play when finally deciding on which college to go to
    • money is usually a huge factor, and sometimes you won’t be able to go to a great school even though you got in bc it’s too expensive. but do not be sad about this. give yourself time to feel sad, but don’t let it dictate your life!! you need to stay logical and rational. think long-term. sit down with your guardians and discuss the option of taking out loans and so forth. if you’re planning on pursuing grad school afterwards, you need to keep that in the picture as well 
    • talk to current-students and compare important things – if you’re really big on community service, ask the current students at different schools how it is there. this applies for everything!! first-hand accounts are incredibly helpful. you can also consider emailing professors of departments you’re interested in for a more professional and academic perspective 
    • look into their programs and try and avoid putting too much emphasis on rankings - be specific and read up on the department that you’re interested and compare them with different schools. don’t blindly let an overall ranking mislead you!! (i.e. Duke is ranked higher overall than Georgia Tech, but Georgia Tech is ranked MUCH higher in many of its engineering programs) 
    • talk to people – talk to your parents. talk to your counselors, your teachers, your peers. basically everyone is talking about college your senior year, so take advantage of it. talk with other people and get second, third, fourth, fifth opinions. expand your mind and consider everything!! 

senior year is this giant conglomeration of sweat and tears and happiness and anger and jealous and confusion, so do not worry if you are feeling overwhelmed!! it is normal, and i promise that everyone has felt scared about the future at some point. but with that, be confident in yourself. you’re absolutely lovely + you will go far in life!! 

ok 1) I apologize for how absurdly long this post is and 2) I am here to help if ANYONE has ANY questions about anything!! literally I would love giving advice, so feel free to msg me anytime (my main account is @naiveety though, so whichever works) 

ALSO if anyone is interested in Duke, please please please come to me & I will help!!!

GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE APPLYING TO COLLEGE & MAY YOU ALL HAVE A WONDERFUL, BRILLIANT FUTURE :’) 

INDIVIDUALITY

  • your essay is your opportunity to show something about you that doesn’t come across elsewhere in your application.
  • this is about you as an individual.
  • your essay should have a unique voice to it, making it an essay that only you could have written
  • colleges will often cross-reference your essay with your ACT writing / SAT writing scores for quality, meaning it’s important you write your own essay.

CONVENTIONS

  • clearly address the essay prompt/question.
  • follow all instructions, such as word count (which is strict) and suggested components (if they recommend using multiple paragraphs, etc)
  • triple-check that your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are correct.
  • avoid tangents and stick to your point.
  • at the same time, provide context succinctly. don’t assume your reader knows what you mean when you use specialized language.
  • you probably don’t have the same sense of humor as your reader, so don’t rely on jokes throughout to make it interesting.
  • revise it ruthlessly.
  • ask your english teacher if they can revise it for you (considerately, and if you know they might have time).
  • have your parents and friends revise it too. fresh eyes always help.

CONTENT

  • you don’t have to use a suggested topic, like a hobby. if the essay is asking about a significant turning point in your life, however, and that hobby played a major part in it, then maybe it’s a good idea to talk about when you learned to embroider.
  • use it to explain your application. if there’s a prompt about going through a struggle and your grades dipped when your parents got divorced, talk about how that affected your life.
  • choose a topic that your best friend could recognize you by if she didn’t know who had written the essay.
  • your reader should be able to tell why you picked that topic. show them why it’s special to you.
  • colleges value passion, ambition, and personal dedication to a cause over almost all else. demonstrate that you have that.
  • talk about what happened, but more about why it happened and what it did for your character development.
  • avoid lying. sincerity is hard to convey but easy to detect.
Highlights from my College Essays this Year

EDIT: I had this queued to post on May 1st, but for whatever reason it never did. I’m posting this now because a few of you have asked me about some of my essays. These are all from 2014-2015. These are mostly opening lines btw

  • “Like most moments in my life, my first impression of academia can be summarized by Stephen Sondheim lyrics: bizarre; fixed; cold.” (Stanford)
  • “I think eighth-grade-me would hate myself for painting.” (Columbia)
  • “For as long as I can remember I’ve concocted elaborate assassination plots against myself” (Stanford)
  • “Ever since I draped an executioner’s hood over my face, shredded bundles of lettuce, and sent the resulting “Veganism” PSA to my entire school on April Fool’s Day, people told me I’m overly dramatic.” (Brown)
  • “From the age of eleven I’ve lusted for revolution.” (Brown)
  • “Dear Brown: You’re not like the other colleges.”
  • “In her grand Act I finale (“Take-A,Take-A,Take Me/Spooky College Wait Dream”), the candidate anxiously envisions her UChicago dream while encouraged by visions of Steven Levitt and Carl Sagan, whilst dancing cups of Ramen Noodles surround her.” (UChicago-I wrote the whole thing like a summary of a musical)

youtube

How to Make Your Mediocre Extracurricular Essay Better (in About 30 Minutes)

Here’s how to take your essay from “mediocre” to “better” in about 30 minutes:

1. Look at your essay, identify the values you gained through your extracurricular activity, and highlight them in bold.

2. Ask yourself: are these values predictable? Could someone who hasn’t read my essay, in other words, guess what lessons I learned from this activity without reading it?

  • Example of predictable values for violin: discipline, commitment, hard work
  • Example of unpredictable values for violin: privacy, risk, personal integrity

Isn’t that second set of values already a more interesting essay? 

(Bonus tip: make sure all your values are clearly different. In example above, how are “discipline, commitment and hard work” different?) 

So how do you turn your predictable values into unpredictable ones?

Cut the predictable values, then use your beautiful, infinite imagination to come up with new, unpredictable values. Dig deep. Think about specific moments of difficulty. How’d you work through them? If it feels tangential at first, keep digging; you might strike gold.

Why will this only take you 30 minutes?

Because you are smart and original and totally competent.