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Quirky Tips for Writing Your College Essay

Get Creative Writing Your College Essay!

William Faulkner wrote on the walls of his house. Gertrude Stein liked to write in parked cars. J.K. Rowling jots ideas on napkins.

There are a million ways to get your creative juices flowing. When it comes to your college essay, finding a brainstorming technique that works for you can make the difference between wowing your reader and lulling them to sleep.

The goal of all these exercises is the same: finding the material—values, anecdotes, ideas, life-experiences—that will offer a window into your unique story and mindset.

Check out these ten ideas designed to get you started.

Quirky Brainstorming Tips:

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  1. The Classic: There is nothing like free-writing to help you get past initial writers’ block. Set a timer, and challenge yourself to write non-stop for five minutes. Go wherever the process takes you; you might be surprised by what’s on your mind!
  2. The Phrase Hunter: This is a variation on classic free-writing. After you write for five minutes, go back over what you have written and single out one sentence or short phrase that stands out to you. Then, write that phrase at the top of a new piece of paper, set the timer, and write for another five minutes on whatever the phrase brings to mind.
  3. The Desert Island: If you were stuck on a desert island with someone who could only discuss three topics, what topics would you want those to be? Why? What would you hope to gain by discussing them?
  4. The Word Storm: This is an association exercise in which you will generate a list of thought-provoking words. Start with a word that is especially meaningful to you on the top of a blank page. Underneath that first word, write another word you associate with the first. Underneath the second word, write another word you associate with the second, and so on. This exercise can be fantastic for revealing connections between aspects of your life that might at first appear unrelated: If you started with “football” and ended up with “empathy,” for example, you might be on the trail of a killer essay!
  5. The Committee: Choose a real-life comedian, a real politician, and a real person from your neighborhood (not a relative). Now, imagine this group is making a presentation to the admissions dean at the college of your choice, advocating for your acceptance. What are they saying? Is there a main point to their presentation? Do they elaborate on it in different ways?
  6. The Idea Map: Start by naming a specific story, personal struggle, idea you hold dear, important relationship, or striking anecdote from your life, and write it inside of a circle in the middle of the page. Then, branch off new circles from the center with related experiences, ideas, or questions. Continue the process until you have many “branches,” each with other ideas branching from them. Then, see if you can draw any lines of connection across the different branches.
  7. The Friends and Family Plan: Ask ten friends or family members to each write down ten adjectives that describe you. When you have all ten lists, note which word appears the most and which appears the least. You are now looking at something about you that comes across clearly, and something about you that might not be obvious on the surface. Ask yourself, how are these two things related?
  8. The Acceptance: Imagine you have won your first Oscar. Whom do you thank in your speech? Will you get political? What is your message for young fans?
  9. The Roomie: Write a letter introducing yourself to your future roommate. Give her or him an idea not just of what to expect from you in terms of habits, activities, likes, and dislikes, but also of the why: why are these your habits, activities, likes, and dislikes?
  10. The Hook: Rather than start with a rough draft of a single essay, this technique asks you to begin by writing the first line of ten different essays. Without worrying too much about what each of these essays would discuss, try to write ten of the most eye-catching, attention-grabbing opening lines (that are somehow relevant to your life). For inspiration, read this article, listing memorable first lines from applicants to Stanford.

Happy brainstorming!

Learn more about Marks Education Counselor Hugh McIntosh


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