Crafting a dynamite admissions essay has very little to do with your ability to write. Colleges expect you to be able to draft a coherent essay, and as long as you live up to that expectation, you will not be making any admissions officers cringe as they read through your work. However, admissions essays have everything to do with the writer's ability to engage in deep introspection, to be able to take stock of what experiences they have been involved in, what their personality is like, and how the crossroads between experience and personality have defined the person they have become. Colleges are looking for stellar individuals who have developed a reasonable understanding of who they are. While it may be tempting to glance at a pool of previously written admissions essays and lean towards the topics that are prevalent amongst them, this is the trap of college admissions. An experience that might have been profoundly integral in the development of one person might not have had any sort of useful effect on your own growth. As annoying and cliched as this may sound, you have to zero in on what makes you, you.
These are twenty questions that you should ask yourself before writing any admissions essay:
- Who am I? (Not literally like "bro, who are you," but who are you?)
- What makes me interesting?
- What am I involved in?
- Why have I spent my time doing these things?
- What do I enjoy most out of life and why?
- What experiences are most memorable?
- Why are these experiences memorable?
- What makes me happy?
- What am I passionate about?
- What do I detest?
- On a typical day, how do I feel?
- Why am I applying to this college?
- Would I be happy anywhere else?
- Why do I value education?
- What hardships have I overcome?
- How have these hardships affected the person that I am today?
- Would I have become this person without those hardships?
- Where do I get my morals from?
- What is my ultimate goal in life?
- What am I willing to do to accomplish that goal?
Think of these questions like the questions of a psychological test. With them, you can take inventory of your experiences, weigh them against one another, and determine which ones have been truly worth it. You'll arrive upon some experience (it might even be something as obscure as the first time you completed a Rubik's cube, or that time you brushed shoulders with a long-forgotten relative on the evening subway) that can be a bridge to a dynamite admissions essay.
You will never know what you have the ability to write about if you don't ask yourself questions like these. Introspective questions as these are meant to force you to think deeply about who you are as a person, what has made you, you and most importantly, what makes you unique, different and admirable. If you can answer those questions, then writing the actual essay will be a walk in the park.