Summer is officially over, which means the return of school work, extracurricular activities, and after-school jobs. For rising high school seniors, there’s also the looming task of writing college admissions essays. Today we’re back with more college admissions essay writing tips, this time from Peter G., a student at Princeton and InstaEDU college admissions tutor.
On Getting Inspired
I think a lot of my college essay was written when I was not writing… [when I was] running on the track and feeling the turf beneath my feet or speaking Shakespeare for the first time and finding the iambs surprisingly similar to that turf. These natural curiosities and innate observations were swirling around in my head when I sat down in my quiet room to set these ideas on paper. I began thinking of an igloo I built one winter with my dad when I was a little kid, remembering how safe and warm it felt within its walls. I couldn’t stop thinking about this igloo and feeling it again. Then, I began writing — anything, everything that came to mind, realizing in reverse the reason why this igloo was on my mind. It was a place where I felt the same warmth I experienced while reading, the flow of iambic pentameter, the connection of meeting someone’s eyes when acting.
Focusing on a Core Idea
My essay was all about valuing subtle connections, however small: person-to-person connections and connections between ideas. That feeling of connection I had with my father in the igloo was itself linked to others in my mind — how it felt to speak verse, for instance. I was writing about the universally connecting experience of empathy that makes us human. I didn’t state this outright, though, but rather let the images within the essay express what I was trying to say. This felt much more natural. Even after editing the essay many, many times, I chose to leave it like this, only adding one sentence near the end as a summation of the essay’s discovery. I chose to follow this summation sentence by once again bringing it back to the personal, describing the igloo and my father’s face, experiencing that feeling of warmth and happiness on the page through the act of writing.
The Surprise of Writing
And this was the most pleasant surprise of writing the college essay. I had always felt uncomfortable writing about myself. Through writing this essay, though, I discovered that the best way to write about oneself is not to write about oneself. Through describing a central image, the igloo, I was able to write in my own voice, see it through my own eyes.
My advice to applicants writing college essays would be to settle on a central image — a person, place, object, historical event, anything, which is of great importance to them. For instance, write as much or as little as feels natural about a significant person in your life. Then, write about a significant place. Next, write about an object. These may all wind up in the same essay even. At the very least, you will get a feel for the unique format of the college essay which requires you to write about yourself without writing about yourself. Starting this process early is very important. Common App prompts don’t change that much year to year and you can fit these topics into any essay prompt. The more specific and personal you can be, the better. The more personally you write, the more you will begin to experience again what you recount and in so doing, reveal your own unique perspective.
Epilogue to the college essay story
I chose to attend Princeton in the fall and encountered many a triangle made of snow outside the dormitories. (For those who aren’t Princeton folklore buffs, these snowy creations were inspired by Princeton Triangle Club, a musical group which once featured F. Scott Fitzgerald). Every time I passed a snow triangle, I would think of home and that igloo from years ago.
If you’d like to read Peter’s college admissions essay, you can find a read-only version of it here.
If you’re looking for more college admissions essay writing help, stay tuned for more posts in the Tutor Talks series on college admissions essay writing — coming throughout this fall on the InstaEDU blog. And make sure to get in touch with Peter G. and our nearly 2,000 college admissions tutors on InstaEDU for one-on-one college essay writing guidance. Be sure to follow us on Instagram @instaedu_tutoring and on Snapchat at ‘instaedu’ to unlock more Tutor Talks content.