ANSWER: If you are like a lot of people, writing a coherent, convincing essay is perceived as a daunting task. But it needn't be if you think of your essay as a way of showing admissions readers a special written "home movie," starring you in an interesting story.
If you take just a little time, chances are you can think of many stories about you that have been told around the family dinner table, to friends, written in a journal or even turned in for a writing assignment at school.
Humorous anecdotes are family favorites and often contain kernels of truth about you as a person or lessons you have learned that can be shared in an essay. Did a funny encounter with a stranger in line at the concert become a lasting, close friendship that led to a fantastic summer job? Did klutziness in one sport move you to another one in which you excelled beyond your wildest dreams? Some really fine essays describe dramatic situations, but just as many capture important insights that come from small, everyday occurrences.
Good essays are not a laundry list of awards or prizes or a travelogue of what you did and saw on a trip. Often the more impressive story is the one in which you demonstrate an "a-ha" moment—something happened that caused your life to turn around, rethink long-held assumptions or undertake a task that you had never done before.
If your college essays are coming up, the best way to get started is to gather stories in a good brainstorming session with your family and/or friends. Once you have a bunch of ideas, select the best and write them down as possibilities.
• Next, go over them one by one to see which have messages you want admissions officers to "get" about you. Select one and begin jotting down further ideas, relevant quotes or dialogue, interesting facts and observations.
• Once you have a page or two of thoughts and ideas, organize them into an outline or jump into writing a first draft. Once you have a draft, then take a break and let it sit for a day or two. You need a little distance to be able to evaluate what you have done.
• Go back and edit the draft and give it to someone you trust to do another edit for you.
• The last stage is evaluating those edits to see if they make sense to you. Take some, leave others and then come up with your final essay. See! It's not as hard as you think.
So the next time you sit down to answer an essay question, instead of popping into a sweat and squeezing out words, start the process by brainstorming personal stories. Remember, the more memorable the story is, the more memorable you will be when it comes time for admissions people to make your admission decision.