All throughout elementary school, you wrote personal narratives. You wrote with great detail and expression about birthday parties, baseball games, and snow days.
Remember this one that most everyone wrote?
Rrrrrrr. I could hear a loud machine outside of my window. I woke up, confused about why my mother did not wake me up. I looked outside and I couldn’t believe it! There was snow everywhere! Quickly, I ran downstairs. My mother was drinking her coffee and making pancakes. “Mom?” I asked. “Is today a snow day?” “Yes, it is,” she said. “Wooooo hooooooo!” I screamed. Quickly, I threw on my snowpants and boots. “Not so fast,” my mom said. “You need to eat first.”
In elementary school, you spent eight weeks a year writing personal narratives.
And then you never did them again until junior year, when all of a sudden, you had the pressure of writing not only your first narrative since you were eleven, but also, the college essay that will be used to evaluate your admissions application! Talk about stress!
For years, I worked with high school seniors on their college application essays. Furthermore, I have also been a fifth grade teacher (hello, narratives about snow days!) and have done some professional writing. I also worked in an admissions office in college, and when I was a hockey coach at a boarding school, I reviewed applications for hockey players. So, I am going to share some insider tips to help you write a compelling essay that will get you noticed.
First of all, it’s important to understand something about the application process. There are hundreds of kids who are just like you— similar GPA, similar extra curriculars, similar test scores. Statistically, you probably look like everyone else applying to that school. The essay is a chance for you to show WHO you are and HOW your experiences will make an impact on campus. It is the part of your application that lets the committee know why you are different than everyone else who is also applying.
Recently, Common App released their prompts for the class of 2023. These prompts are very open-ended, allowing you to tell your story. Here they are, right from their site:
For the writers who need more direction, the first six offer a way to focus. On the other hand, for writers who have a unique story that does not match the prompts, question number seven allows for that.
The essay, no matter what the prompt, essentially needs four parts that the admissions committee looks for:
And you only have 650 words or so to do this!
So, how do you make sure that the essay is compelling and shows something unique? Follow that formula!
You are uniquely you! Whether you have a passion for planning parties, a talent for teaching toddlers, or an interest in inventing, you have a story to tell. If you had to dig yourself out of a failing grade, that’s a way to show tenacity. Getting cut from the team or the show, and finding a way to be involved in a different role shows perseverance. The way that a community rallied around your family in a time of need can show gratitude. Your obsession with Civil War History since toddlerhood, and the trips that your family has taken to fuel that passion can show a deep and unique interest. Getting diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, Depression, and finding ways to work around these challenges shows that you can do hard things.
Send me a dm! I love to help students develop a topic that feels meaningful!
Cara Parker is a senior, family, and wedding photographer based out of Groton, MA and serving New England. A fifth grade teacher, a busy mom, and a nature lover, she brings her love of the outdoors, her experiences as a parent, and her talents in the classroom to each session.
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