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Use the Holidays to Get Intel for Your College Essays

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Use the Holidays to Get Intel for Your College Essays

Ah, the holidays. Turkey and dressing and pie and relatives. So many relatives, all asking questions about school, your love life, and your college search.


But how about turning that around? What if you asked the questions and used family holiday gatherings as a way to turn the spotlight on someone else or to gain intel for college essays? As a bonus, you might find out more about who you are – or discover that Aunt Tillie isn’t so boring after all.

Grab your smartphone and enter those holiday gatherings as if you were recording or filming video for your favorite blog or late-night show.

Where to start? Think like a reporter and concentrate on the five Ws: who, what, where, when and why.

Let’s go back to Aunt Tillie for a moment. Notice that pin she’s always wearing, the one with the hummingbird on it? Well …

Who gave it to her?

What’s it made out of and who made it?

Where was she when she received it?

When did she receive it?

Why did she get it?

Perhaps it was a gift from her brother who died in the South Pacific in World War II or from a student in the low-income school where she taught in the Bronx. Perhaps it belonged to her mother, a suffragette who fought for women’s rights. Maybe it’s rare South African stones, or it’s just a dime-store brooch that her long-lost love gave her in sixth grade. If she wears it all the time, here’s betting there’s a story behind it.

And if not, turn to Uncle Joe or your granddad or your parents. Think about an object or photograph that might be the opening into a story. Or ask an open-ended question, like, what was your bravest/funniest/weakest moment? Or, let them stand in your shoes and answer one of your college essay prompts.

If you want to be more formal about a holiday listening project, check out Story Corp’s,“The Great Thanksgiving Listen.” NPR is inviting history teacher across the country to ask students to record older generations during Thanksgiving (and possibly get credit for it). Story Corps is NPR’s oral history project that has recorded 65,000 personal histories from people around the country. You can help get your school involved and download the app.

So don’t be that kid in the room over the holidays dodging the questions. Take control and start asking them. A great story might be one of the best gifts you receive.

[While you're at it, here's 6 college tasks to complete over the holiday breaks.]