The College Admission Essay: You Do Have a Story to Tell

By: Lorena Villa Parkman
Courtesy of New Futuro

 Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - EducationThe moment you’ve been fearing has arrived. You’ve been putting it off for weeks, you’ve turned it over and over in your head, you’ve sat in front of your computer for hours, and the only thing that you have is a blank screen. You can’t avoid it any longer: it’s time to write your college admission essay. Not to add any pressure, but this is perhaps that most important thing that you’ve had to write up to this point. And the main problem that almost all students have to face is: What should I write about?

Araceli Díaz, a counselor for the Illinois College Advising Corps, an organization whose mission is to increase college admission and completion for lower-income, underserved students, says that the majority of young people have a very difficult time coming up with a personal story for their college admission essay: “They’re not used to writing about themselves,” says Araceli. Nevertheless, she says that in all her career, she has yet to find a kid that doesn’t have an interesting story to tell. That being said, how can you decide on a good subject for your essay?

According to the Writers
Ray Bradbury, an award-winning science fiction writer, always advises young writers that in order to write a great story and surprise their readers, they first have to surprise themselves. When he wrote Dandelion Wine, “I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened along in my head.” Bradbury believed that it’s better to discover your story as you go creating it, so make sure to write and write; it doesn’t matter if at the beginning your essay doesn’t appear to have a form; from there great ideas will arise that you can later make your essay. I recommend that you read Bradbury’s 7 Rules for Writers to inspire you more.

On the other side, a much more radical writer, Kurt Vonnegut, also wrote seven rules for writing well, which you can follow as you write your admissions essay, or any other college paper. They are:

  • Find a subject you care about
  • Do not ramble, though
  • Keep it simple
  • Have guts to cut
  • Sound like yourself
  • Say what you mean
  • Pity the readers

Your secret weapons will be clarity, specificity, and brevity. Use them always.

According to the Admissions Officers
The prestigious John Hopkins University, on its admissions pages, has some essays that can serve as a guide for creating your own. An article from 2012 from The Charlotte Observer offers some tips about what to do – and what not to do – when writing your essay. Among them is this very valuable tip: “Share your passion; write about what’s important to you.” If you want advice from the experts, the New York Times has two very useful articles, one written by the author of books about admissions essays, Alan Gelb, and the other written by Times’ journalists about how to write well.

According to Other Students
Finally, we want to tell you that you’re not alone. It’s hard for all students to write their admissions essay. As an example, you can read a blog post by Cristen Chinea, student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about how she changed her essay a day before the due date to send in her documents. Or this other story, where Nya Marie describes how difficult it was for her to choose a subject for her essay. It’s comforting to know that you aren’t the only one who battles with this part of the admissions process, right?

When you think about what subject you can use to write your college admissions essay, remember that we all have a story to tell – it’s only a matter of discovering it and getting to work. I hope the resources in this article help you to activate your creativity and inspire you to tell a great story from your life.

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