Brainstorming Ideas for Your College Application Essay

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: June 9, 2013

Getting started–that’s the hard part!

You’re the artist. Go ahead. Whether you use pencil, water color, crayolas, or acrylics, you are the only one who can paint your self-portrait. We know it’s hard, especially among many teens who find that writing about yourself in positive terms can be equated with egotism. Time to put that naïve feeling aside. Yes, it’s true that there’s nothing more difficult that writing about yourself, but here are some tips to help you break through the writer’s block and get “up close and personal”!

Dive down in your thinking: at every turn of your writing, ask yourself, “Why did I say that?” and “What’s really behind my words?” Here are some examples to get the wheels rolling.

Let’s say you enjoy science labs. Well, why, exactly? Provide detail and rationale. Like soccer? What does it feel like when you cross the chalk line onto the field? Where do you suppose that feeling comes from? Are you a modern dancer? What goes through your head as you wait for your cue in the wings? Video game enthusiast? What does the challenge mean to you beyond pure entertainment?

More…You’re into baking, mastered the French tarte normande. Tell us about your reactions to the smell of cinnamon and hot apples. Free diver on the Florida reefs? What’s it like 50 feet down without SCUBA gear? Oboe player? Describe how and why the never-ending struggles with the double reed are worth the effort. Paint ball fan? Smear on the colors of the chase! Get the picture about your picture? Let the reader feel what you’re feeling, see what you’re seeing – essentially, get inside you to feel what it’s like to be you!

OK, here are some Getting Started questions to jar your thinking and help you begin to paint your portrait:

  1. What intellectual ideas do you find attractive? Why? Which particular courses in college do you foresee enrolling in to learn more about those ideas? Remember: you’re going to college, an educational endeavor first and foremost. Colleges consider your response to this question quite telling!
  2. What do you do for fun outside of academic pursuits? Sports? Music? Video gaming? What qualities of your extracurricular activities and hobbies make them attractive to you? How do they make you feel? Why do you like doing them? How have you changed as a result of them?
  3. What are your particular talents, and how do you come to have them?
  4. Who has influenced you the most in your life, either through direct interaction, or indirectly?
  5. The world is very complex. What societal issues do you find most compelling, and what exactly would you do to answer a call to action?
  6. Where is your favorite place in the world to be? Why? How do you feel there? How has being there changed you?
  7. What makes you happy? Or sad? Why?
  8. What’s the funniest or most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?
  9. What was the biggest challenge you faced? And how did you do that?
  10. What do you fear? How do you overcome that fear?
  11. What makes you different from your friends?
  12. Think hard about the word “diversity.” Almost all colleges use it somewhere in their application or website. What does diversity mean to you, really, beyond questions of race and religion? Schools are very sensitive about this issue, because most schools want to think that their campus populations represent a broad diversity of…what?
  13. What would your friends say about those facets of your personality and life that are special, outstanding, unique? These could be your own philosophy, your specific accomplishments, “secret” passions – all things that reveal who you are. You can always ask your best friends to describe you. Try mom or dad, brother or sister. They’ll reveal lots about you!

Topics: College Application Essay College Application


Like this post? Share it!

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all

Ready to move to the front of the class?

Let's discuss an educational plan that will get you or your student on a path to success.