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    5 Tips on Starting the College Essay

    Posted May 7, 2014, 3:00 pm by Elly Swartz
    5 Tips on Starting the College Essay

    Junior year is almost behind you and the college essay looms on the horizon. Its importance has been shared with you in meetings with your college counselor, in the too-many-to-count information sessions, and, of course, in family discussions over lasagna at the dinner table. You’re told this is where you can share your voice, tell your story, and make a difference in the eyes of admissions officers. You stare at your blank screen and wonder where to start. How do you dig through eighteen years of experiences and select the one that shares your voice, your vision, and your passion? Or worse yet, what if you’ve already perused your lifetime of home videos and realize nothing “big” has happened to you? Now what?

    Your Voice, Your Vision, and Your Passion

    Don’t worry. I promise there’s a story in you that will embrace your voice, your vision, and your passion. And it doesn’t have to be big. In fact, it’s often the slivers in time that best share who you are. The moment you drove your first beat-up car out of the driveway – alone; the moment you realized you could rig your book so you could continue reading it in the shower; or the moment you popped your mom’s exercise ball – on purpose. Small moments in your life can make big statements.

    Here are some tips on how to find your story and begin your college essay.

    Review the Question.

    Take a moment and read the essay question. Think about it, put it away, and let the ideas flow.

    Create an Idea Bank.

    You’ve read the question, now list all of the ideas that come to mind. Little. Big. Funny. Weird. Esoteric. Philosophical. Don't censor and don't edit. Just list.

    This is not a desk job. List your ideas while you're on the train to your summer job, on the bus to sports, or eating your breakfast. Keep your list on your computer, tablet, phone, or notebook. Whatever mode works best for you, just write them down.

    Stroll Down Memory Lane.

    No one remembers every detail of your life like your parents, grandparents and caregivers. Their memories and perspectives are a wonderful place to begin. They may trigger your own memory or help you make connections between your present and past.

    Consider them the foundation of the house. So go ahead. Reconnect and relive all those wonderful and sometimes embarrassing childhood stories. Ask your parents, grandparents, caregiver, best friend, and sibling about your best and worst moments growing up; about your favorite toy, book, game or hobby; about your special place to think or sit or sulk; and the qualities they’d want an admissions officer to know about you.

    Mine your photos.

    Try looking through your photos on FB, Pinterest, your family albums, your home videos. Don’t forget about the scrap books that have those tickets to your favorite concert and pictures of that haircut you got on a dare. Sometimes the best stories are tucked behind an old photo.

    Talk it out.

    The best way to refine an idea is to vet it. If it feels too personal or too stressful to share with a parent or friend, seek out a teacher, college counselor, or essay advisor and talk it out.

    Now your idea bank is brimming with stories and you’re ready to begin. Reread the question, outline your answer, and write. Share your voice, your vision, your passion. After all, this is your story.

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    Elly Swartz

    Elly Swartz

    Elly Swartz is the founder of The Essay Adviser, a writer, a lawyer, and a former teacher of Legal Research and Writing at Boston University School of Law. Elly helps navigate the application process, and is dedicated to providing personalized application and essay advisory services for college, graduate school and independent secondary school through individual advising and group workshops.