You should be thinking about your college application essays now. Like, right now.
No pressure—think of it more like an invitation.
Why start now? Because whether you know it or not, you’ve already started writing those essays.
That might seem like a strange idea. Let me explain:
Your college application essays will ask you to tell a story (or stories) about your life. Many students struggle to find an angle worth developing in their essays. I’ve heard a number of students say something to the effect of, “I don’t think there’s anything interesting about me, so what can I write about?”
But that’s never true: everyone has a compelling story to tell. The issue is not that high school students don’t have meaningful life experience, as many adults might think. It’s that most teenagers have not yet figured out how to view their experiences as meaningful.
So, when I say it’s never too early to begin thinking about your college application essays, what I really mean is: you should start thinking about how to tell a story out of your day-to-day life.
Or, better yet, you should start thinking about how to make your day-to-day life worthy of a story. In order to do that, you have to fill your days with meaning.
What are you doing right now, or tomorrow, or this weekend that will help you create a compelling story about yourself? Think about the next few months or the next few years as a chapter in a book. What actions can you take to create an inspiring beginning, middle, and end?
No matter what you think about your day-to-day life right now, you can do this. In fact, you can do it really, really well.
Consider how you would answer the third Personal Insight Question from the University of California:
What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
I had one student a couple years ago who was really struggling to pick the right PIQs (if you’re applying to UC schools, you’ll need to complete 4 of the 8 options). Over the course of several weeks, we spoke for hours about his interests, hobbies, future goals, family life, extracurricular activities—nearly everything under the sun.
When we got to this question, I asked him if he had any special talents.
His answer? Blowing bubbles.
Not with bubble gum. Not with those bubble toys for kids. His talent was blowing bubbles with his very own saliva.
Yuck. Obviously, he couldn’t write about that—or so he thought.
We talked about how he started blowing bubbles, if there were patterns to when he blew bubbles, and how people in his life reacted to his bubbles. This is where a story started to emerge. He had real, convincing accounts of how this seemingly silly (and pretty gross) habit made people laugh and deflated conflicts.
His response to this PIQ was probably his best because it was filled with details about using this seemingly meaningless talent to help others. It was funny, it was relatable, it was detailed, and it was really, really compelling.
When this student blew bubbles, he was unwittingly writing his college application essays. It took time, creativity, and serious reflection to craft a narrative out of those bubbles, but he did it.
What will make your job easier is developing meaningful habits today. Start by reading some of these personal statements, which are filled with beautiful insights and turns of phrase that might help you when you sit down to write.
And then, get working toward—and thinking about—how to craft your own story.