The Procrastinator’s Guide to the Personal Essay: Last Minute Quick and Easy Tips
If you’re a procrastinator like me, then you might have put off writing your personal essay until now. It’s not too late! Let’s get this party started.
Follow this guide and you will end up with a personal essay that demonstrates who you are in no time. These are the exact steps I follow with my clients. It works. Time tested. Student tested.
STEP ONE: STOP READING ANY AND ALL ACCEPTED ESSAYS
STEP TWO: I LOVE… ONE MINUTE EXERCISE
Set a one-minute timer on your phone and list as many things as you can that you love Then do what you value. Then do what you love. Do it with a friend or do it on your own. If you write them down, then you’ll be able to look back at them, but it’s ok to just say them out loud. It’s a good warm-up. (Idea borrowed from College Essay Guy (and changed up a little))
STEP THREE: GO WITHIN
Here’s the deal about the personal essay. It has to be just that — super, incredibly, deeply personal. The essay needs to be about inner you — the you they can’t get to know anywhere else in your application. So, you have to peel off your onion layers, find your inner Shrek, dig in super deep, and get to know yourself like you’ve never done before. It’s not easy. Ask yourself (and write down these answers) some really personal questions like:
What do I believe?
What do I think?
What do I value?
What keeps me up at night?
What do I get excited about?
What comforts me?
What worries me?
What’s important to me?
Who are my superheroes?
What’s my superpower?
What would my superpower be if I could have any superpower?
What’s my special sauce?
What reminds me of home?
Just play with these. And learn a lot. Become the expert on you because you are really the only person who can be the expert on you. Look for themes that tell about you. Then, you’ll be ready to teach the lesson about who you are and what you believe and value to the application readers. The vehicle you use to get your message across really isn’t as important as what you’re saying about yourself. This doesn’t have to be (and, in my opinion) shouldn’t be a complete narrative. I think the essays need to be more reflection and analysis than a story. Those are the essays that stick with me after reading a few thousand of them. Look, I’m not saying don’t use a story. Use one if that’s what feels right for you. But I believe the story is only the vehicle for getting the message of who you are across the page. I like to see more commentary and less narrative, so for me, the Show, not Tell isn’t really effective. I prefer show and tell — like kindergarten. I don’t want a rundown of your activities — if something is discussed elsewhere in your application, to me, you don’t want to waste the valuable space of the personal essay.
STEP FOUR: FUN WITH WRITING AND QUESTIONS on TMDWA (the most dangerous writing app
This is fun. Pick three or four of the questions above and write on the www.themostdangerouswritingapp.com. I like the superhero one, the what do I believe, and special sauce, but you pick the ones you like most. Give yourself five minutes only to write as much as you can. The cool thing about the most dangerous writing app is that if you stop, you lose what you write, so be careful. I’ve had many many students end up using what they wrote in those five minutes as the catalyst or largest part of their essay. Copy and paste those paragraphs to a google doc so you can use them if you want.
STEP FIVE: WRITE YOUR ESSAY
Take what you’ve written on TMDWA and use that to get yourself going. Write your essay. Focus on who you are — not what you do. Your job is to build a connection with your reader. You build a connection by allowing someone in and being vulnerable. So take what you learned about yourself and share that knowledge. The easiest way to move forward with it is to use a This I Believe type format. Some focus on one belief that you thought of and then write about it. You can use the words I believe, I think, I value, I wonder, I know. If they fit in your essay then you know that it’s personal.
STEP SIX: EDIT
Edit the shit out of your essay. Make sure you read it on your computer, read it on your paper, and read it out loud, and have at least one other person you trust look it over. Here’s a story I posted here on Medium that reviews how to edit essays.
STEP SEVEN: BREATHE
Pat yourself on the back, sit back, and smile.
If you’d like to go into more depth, a couple of months ago, last fall, I posted on A2C on Reddit about the personal essay in my step by step guide and links to some of my fave resources. Also, Check out these web pages, www.collegeessayguy.com and www.thisibelieve.org for lots more info on the personal essay, and be sure to read what u/ScholarGrade over on r/ApplyingToCollege on Reddit has to say.
Good luck and have fun with it!