What should I write my college essays about_

What should I write my college essays about?

When I was preparing to write my own college essays, I felt as if I had to squeeze my entire 4 years of high school into a single page Word document.

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I knew I had to write about something significant in my life. However, only two ideas came to mind: one, was immigrating to America when I was in 3rd grade; the other, was when my brother was incorrectly diagnosed with Glaucoma.

Focusing on these two events, I sat down with my laptop, still feeling lost. After struggling to write 5-6 drafts, I knew I was going nowhere.

So, I started to ask myself honest questions, making sure that my ego would not get in the way.

The first question that I asked myself was this:

When was a time that I felt like life was too difficult and impossible to get through, but I was able to use my motivation, drive, and strong skill sets to overcome them?

As I started to truthfully respond to these questions, I began to notice a dramatic shift in the quality of my essay. I was no longer talking about my brother, nor was I talking about my family circumstances.

Instead, I was talking about myself.

This gave me a comfortable space to open up about my failures, my vulnerabilities, and the struggles that I have gone through.

What I ended up with was the most authentic piece of writing that I had ever created.

This was because I wrote for myself, and no one else.

And, because my writing was so genuine and raw, the details of each and every line were vivid, which made me want to write even more about my journey.

So, what DID I write about in my college essay?
I wrote about how I didn't get elected as President of Student Body Government. I talked about speaking onstage to somewhere between 60 to 70 students for the first time in my life, and how I was so nervous that the paper I was holding became wet and wrinkled. I talked about how my hands were shaking so much that the microphone kept moving, back and forth, and back and forth.
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Of course, this was not the only thing I wrote about, but this raw story enabled me to explain how I overcame the fear of people judging me. This failure triggered me emotionally, but instead of being shut down by it, I used this experience to never give up. (If you’re curious, I won the election the year after!)

What I learned from writing my college essays was that, if you write with authenticity and vulnerability, it holds the power to open up someone else’s heart.

And, guess what?

I got accepted into my dream colleges, UCLA and USC, and graduate school at Harvard — even without perfect GPA and SAT scores.

This is what I know.

Your child’s college essay holds more power than both GPA and SAT scores.

I see many students wanting to simply list their accomplishments and activities, but that’s not what the essay is for. The application has a space where you can list your accomplishments, so save them for that. When I brainstorm essay topics with my rising seniors, it’s not about listing surface-level accomplishments and milestones. It’s about digging deep.

So, here’s an action step for your child to do:

11th-grade students:

  • Think about what event, even if seemingly insignificant, shaped you into the person you are today.
  • List all the activities that you’ve done so far, and identify your “value” in life. (There should be a pattern to this. If not, you should reevaluate your on-campus and off-campus activities immediately).
  • Imagine a time in your life that made you think “I can’t do this,” but you did it anyway. List all 5 senses that come to mind when thinking about this moment.

7th~10th-grade students:

  • Keep a journal in a Google Doc for each activity and/or project. Respond to the following questions, as well as any others you can think to ask yourself:
    • Why did I decide to join “x” club?
    • Why did I decide to run for President of “x” volunteer organization?
    • What did I do today at “x” club that made me upset? Or proud?
  • Gain clarity on all of your activities and academic courses. This way, you can make sure that you’re not falling into the trap of the “doing what looks good on the application”

By Julie Kim Ed.M Harvard University