So much of the college application is a recounting of things past—past grades, old classes, activities the student has participated in over several years. The personal essay is your chance to share who they are now and what they will bring to a college campus communities.
Basically, college admission officers are looking for three takeaways in your college essay:
- Who is this person?
- Will this person contribute something of value to our campus?
- Can this person write?
A good brainstorming session can be the difference between creating a strong and unique essay or a mediocre and predictable one. Remember, a unique topic does not have to be out-of-this-world zany, but simply something that has personal resonance to you. To hone in on those topics, break up your brainstorming into three rounds.
- Round 1: Find your stories Your goal should be to identify the important experiences, people, or periods of time in your life. For specific brainstorming exercises to help you do this, see our videos on brainstorming exercises for the college essay. But for this phase, simply look around and ask yourself, Who or what is most important to me?
- Round 2: Delve into the sensory and concrete details It's time to take your initial list and delve into the sensory and concrete details that surround the characters, times, and experiences that formed your initial list. If you're writing a college essay about your mother, the second phase of your college essay brainstorming should include a list of feelings (love, admiration, respect), settings (her office, the kitchen), etcetera. These will help give you a basic sense of the emotional texture of your essay.
- Round 3: Connect the gathered pieces It's time to draft. Your objective here is to put the pieces you gathered during rounds 1 & 2 together in a writing process. Start to assemble the pieces of your essay into a narrative that moves beyond the realm of the brainstorm and into the territory of an essay. This can seem a bit abstract or difficult at first. In the next section, we provide an example of a stellar essay and show you how this process of brainstorming led to its creation.