Brainstorming Tips for Your College Essay

Well, fall has officially arrived! For you seniors, this change in seasons should be viewed as a gentle reminder to begin filling out all those college applications in earnest. You know – the ones that have been piling up (ed. note: you should have already started!). With deadlines looming, you need to grit your teeth and really buckle down.

Naturally, the most time consuming facet of these apps will be your essays/personal statements. And despite those wonderful essay prompts, you might still be feeling unsure of how to begin. Therefore, we figured we’d offer a few brainstorming tips to get the good ol’ creative juices flowing.

Read, Read, Read. If you’re feeling lost and uninspired, consider picking up a book or a newspaper. Reading someone else’s stories can spark your own ideas and imagination. And it can help reaffirm the basics of good writing!

Write (or review) your resume. Take a moment to catalogue all of your work experience and extracurricular involvement. As you assess your achievements, make sure you include details and specifics. The deeper you delve, the more likely you are to jog your memory and hit on a great topic.

Peruse some sample essays. Often times, it’s useful to see how other individuals approached a task with which you’re struggling. Their execution can certainly inspire your own. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should adapt an existing essay to meet your needs. Your personal statement must come from you!

Make a list! Yes, at first glance lists might seem banal and boring. However, they are actually a fabulous way to kick-start your brain. You can begin by listing personal attributes or fun personality quirks, places you’ve traveled or even songs you love. Before you know it, you’ll be leapfrogging from one idea to the next!

Try free association. Free association is a fantastic brainstorming exercise because it really allows you to tap into your unconscious. Begin with any random word and just see where your train of thought takes you. Don’t fret over spelling or whether you’re choosing the “right” word. Simply let yourself write. You’ll likely start to notice some recurring themes. And these premises might just lead you to a fabulous essay topic!

Keep writing! Don’t kill your momentum by censoring yourself. Every idea holds potential. And every thought and subject can be revised and tweaked. If you continually judge and doubt your work, you’ll quickly end up derailed. Allow yourself to simply sit at the computer and type. Openness and relaxation will lead to insight.

Step away from your essay. Yes, we realize this probably sounds counter-intuitive and counter-productive. However, staring at a blank screen for hours on end isn’t all that helpful. Indeed, writer's block can feed on itself. Don’t just sit at your desk letting the stress build. Get up and move around. Tackle some other homework, go for a walk, chat with a friend. Time away from the computer allows for a mental reboot. You’ll return feeling refreshed and raring to type out a killer essay!

It can take time to craft a strong personal statement. And the task can feel quite intimidating, especially when all you have are empty pages. However, there’s no need to freak out if you don’t immediately produce something brilliant. Just employ a few of these tactics and you’re bound to strike gold…eventually!

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2 Responses to “Brainstorming Tips for Your College Essay”

  1. Brianna French
    at #

    I just would like to say thank you SO much for the advice. It is SUPER helpful! Even though I’m only a freshman in high school, I’m really trying to focus on my future. I absolutely LOVE to write too, so I suppose that helps a bit as well. Anyways, thanks again and have a good day!

  2. Jacob
    at #

    This is awesome advice. I was just wondering, does everyone else TYPE up their college essays when writing? I think the best thing is to write in pen, because when you don’t like something on the computer, you erase it and its gone. If you write it then cross it out, you can go back later and use a line you thought of earlier or in a previous draft that says what you want to say.

    Also, just don’t worry. If you keep working on these essays and don’t wait until a week before the deadline to start, you’ll get them all done no problem.

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