College app protip #4: Brainstorm, drainstorm

So, you’ve got to write an essay or two or twenty. Even if, like me, you like to write, essays probably aren’t your favorite flavor of the written word, much like licorice is of jelly beans. Additionally, you have to write about yourself (yikes).

You’ll likely hit a couple of prompts that stump you. I personally had a lot of trouble with coming up with an essay response to The Big One (the Common App main essay, dun dun dun).

So what do you do?

Dig up all your experiences: think about everything you’ve ever done or has ever impacted you. Brainstorm about things to write about, undistracted.

If you’ve already done that, or, want some creative juice jogging, rather than despair, here’s a handful random questions to think about. Keep note of your answers.

  • What do you bother taking the time to do even when you don’t have the time for it?
  • Come up with 3 truths and a lie. Optionally, play the game a couple of friends.
  • Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York (or any comparable photojournalist) stops you on the street and asks for a word. What would you talk about?
  • What sets you on fire, in a good or a bad way? What’s something you can rant on for days?

Take some time, go think about it, then come back here and read past the line.


 

 

 

 

 

Hey, I know you’re creeping past the line. Go finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

shoo.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t kid yourself this exercise is for your own good, now go do it.

 

 

 

 

 

You’re done now right?

 

 

 

 

Done?

 

 

Really?

 

 

 

 

Great! Now I believe you. (Maybe. Roll 1d20 and if it’s a 20 then I’ll believe you.) Read on.


Ok, so I lied, those weren’t exactly random questions. They were meant to make you think about things that are often asked about in essays.

  • What do you bother taking the time to do even when you don’t have the time for it?
    • If you bother to do things even if you don’t have time for it, it obviously means something to you! 
      • For me, it would be creating and reinterpreting music.
  • Why do you do it?
    • What about it appeals to you? I know the answer is probably somewhat wrapped up in procrastination, but think deeper.
      • Music? Why? I do it for myself: I like the way I can wrap melodies in harmonies, change tonal qualities and rhythms to change the interpretation of a song, and make something new out of old things–like recycling.
    • You don’t have to come up with something poetic–yet–but you should feel moved by it. Take that and try to verbalize it: Write it into something that moves your reader.
  • Come up with 3 truths and a lie. Optionally, play the game a couple of friends.
    • What sort of stuff did you come up with? You probably thought of one or two unexpected, special or unique things about you, and perhaps even stuff that’s probably surprised your friends. Maybe you have some crazy stories, or some sad moments.
    • Stuff that seems ordinary or remarkable to you can seem intensely interesting to others:
      • A simple example would be a friend of mine who has perfect pitch. She thinks of it as a sometimes harmful, useless ability, but the a cappella group whom she was auditioning for was amazed by it.
      • Another example: I’ve been fascinated with synesthesia since I was in middle school. For a girl I know who has it, it’s a part of her daily life. I doubt she thinks much of it. But for someone like me who doesn’t have it–I want to know all about it. What color is A440, or slightly out of tune pianos? Do you see colors when you eat things? Do different voice tones have different hues? Do these colors you see have shapes too?
    • In short, maybe you have a different way of doing things, or seeing things. Think about things that make you special, whether it’s something your friends or parents have pointed out, or something you yourself have noticed. Translating things that seem ordinary to you into words can turn into extraordinary essay topics.
  • Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York (or any comparable photojournalist) stops you on the street and asks for a word. What would you talk about?
    • I’m hoping you came up with something more along the lines of a cause you care about or something that’s important to you rather than “I bought these shoes 50% last week!”.
    • Whatever you thought of though, is probably something that matters to you, or something that shows the world a little piece of the way you think. Remember, if Stanton can stop anyone and get a handful of words that thousands–sometimes millions can relate to, then you can write an essay that one admissions officer can understand and empathize with. 
  • What sets you on fire, in a good or a bad way? What’s something you can rant on for days?
    • Whatever this is, it really bothers you, for better or for worse. Whether it’s your thoughts on the way education needs to be restructured or a shield of words to protect your autistic sibling, if it gets your blood pressure up, you care about it. If you have an essay in which you must write about something that matters to you, try to make your reader understand why it triggers you. 

 

These ideas aren’t comprehensive by far, but they mainly follow the ideas of realizing you have some unique perspective (because you do) and that there are things you care about whether you realize it or not–two things I had major issues with.

Feel free to comment about thoughts or ask for clarification, I wrote this a bit hastily. I know that some of you are working towards early deadlines and so forth, so I wish you luck as those loom on the horizon…

 

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