Sweat the Small Stuff: Getting Out of a College Essay Writing Rut

High School Student

Aug   2015



It's an enormous feat to condense all of the positive attributes you possess into a 650-word narrative. It's even more of a hurdle to avoid every inevitable cliché . . . especially when the foundation of most college essay clichés are the determined and passionate characteristics colleges love to see.

As a junior preparing for college, I seem to be surrounded by other prospective college-goers whose personal hardships and triumphs practically beckon them to write about them. Some of us may think back on our years and feel a lack of unique experiences prevents us from competing with those types of essays. Yes, hardships such as overcoming adversity and triumphs such as qualifying for a national award speak so strongly to writers' characters that their entity cannot be wholly spoken for without them. However, these types of essays aren't the end-all-be-all of a compelling piece. Sometimes the small things can prove the perfect stuffing of a college essay.

Example: last year my (now graduated) fashionista friend wrote her essay about shoes. Yes, shoes. It was a bit of a controversial piece to teachers who reviewed it, simply because the idea of it sounded petty. But shoes are important to her, so their remarks didn't scuff her heels; she submitted the essay anyways.

Actually, allow me to rephrase myself. Her essay was a whimsical piece on how she has the charisma of a Louboutin, the drive of a Puma (clever wordplay on the brand, eh?), and the sensibility of Doc Martens. She literally gave college representatives the opportunity to take a walk in her shoes. What better way to let them understand what she's made of?

An important note to take away, unfortunately, is not all the colleges she applied to came to admire her essay. However a sad inevitability it is, I don't see why she would have any desire to attend a school that doesn't support her strong character like the soles of her classic Keds support her stride.

It's a fact as true as time: not everyone is going to like you. But because she wrote her heart out and put herself in a both vulnerable and unparalleled piece, she'll have colleges who fit her like a glass slipper.

A tale of sorrow is a likable one. It's one that demands empathy and shows strength, just as a tale of success sets individuals apart with their perseverance. I absolutely do not discourage anyone with such a tale to use it. Your story will make colleges see just how much you could offer to their community. But I have advice for those who worry that their lives don't warrant an essay that practically writes itself into perfection.

Write two lists.

The first: your greatest strengths of character. No modesty required. If this puts you into a rut, ask a peer or parent for descriptions of you.

The second: your passions, however miniscule or mundane you may find them to be. There are connections you may never have fathomed between your determination to succeed and your precision and craft as you do origami. Or perhaps the cooking you do with your grandmother has prepared you for your communications major because when you two work together, your fluency and sharp, thorough communication ensures that each dish is perfection. Anything that's important to you is going to capture the attention of colleges with similar values.

Sweat the small stuff. Just write about you.

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About Kristen Connors

Kristen Connors is a senior at Rising Tide Charter High School in Plymouth, Massachusetts. She is a cross-country, basketball, and softball athlete, as well as an aspiring economist, writer, and eager college student.