Why Every Student Has a Unique Story to Tell

Hint: it's about how you see the world.

First sessions with students tend to go one of two ways. Some students will come prepared with an essay idea that revolves around the most emotionally important event -- or series of events -- in their lives. Others will arrive insisting that they are unable to write the essay because they haven’t “done anything that matters,” like “build an app to stop global warming” or “direct a full-length documentary” (direct quotes from students). In a way, both types of students have the wrong idea. 

It’s been said before, but essays do not have to be about emotionally weighty subjects or academically impressive feats in order to be successful. 

For a great personal essay, perhaps paradoxically, don’t be afraid to look outside yourself. Colleges are interested not merely in your personality— they are curious about you as a student and learner. Rather than trying to express the ever-elusive “who I really am” essay, it is important to show colleges how you think. Analyzing personal experiences for their greater significance outside of your own development, or tackling a problem that has sparked your interest, can show colleges how your brain works when confronted with a challenge. More than telling your own story, you should feel free to add broader critiques or lessons that you felt came out of it. Connect your essay to someone else’s story, to a great article, to a book you read, or a philosophical theory that spurs your curiosity. Not only will add a layer of intellectualism to your essay, you will also allow your reader a glimpse into how your mind makes meaning out of the information and experiences you are presented with.  

So, if you haven’t managed to complete a rescue mission during a natural disaster, you can still write a powerful essay that shows, through your thought process itself, the type of intellect you will contribute to a university community.