The photograph is representative of the anxiety that many high school seniors experience when attempting to write their college essay. Unfortunately, not only do students struggle with identifying an essay topic, they struggle greatly with the writing process.

Developing high quality college admissions essays requires a lengthy period of writing, review, and critical examination. Sometimes a ‘critical examination’ is hindered by emotional attachments to a student’s essay. A mom may want to read flattering things about her in her daughter’s essay. An older sibling wants to see herself as the heroine of her younger sister’s essay. A family wants to see itself in a flattering light in a student’s essay, or the student does not want to tell the story that needs to be told if he or she is to truly distinguish themselves in the competitive pool or college applicants. However, a well written essay, or well told story, is essential when applying to selective colleges or for competitive scholarships. The students with whom we have worked who have received the most amazing college and scholarship opportunities have written great essays that have told great stories. One student talked about the disparities in standardized test scores in her high poverty and lower performing school. Another student described in great detail a life of working alongside her family as a migrant farm laborer avoiding snakes, treating bee stings, and spreading ointment on her scraped and bruised hands and knees. Another student shared the painful story of his father being killed in the front lawn when he was two-years-old.

Other students told stories that were not nearly as tragic, but equally vivid involving challenge and triumph in the aftermath of natural disasters. These students discovered what many students avoid, that a well written essay, or well told story, takes weeks, if not months to develop. Students who choose to put off writing their essays until their college application deadlines, experience even more anxiety and increase the likelihood of submitting badly written essays. Hopefully, your journey through this activity will result in your emerging with a well written essay.


Develop your approach to writing your college admissions essays.

Estimated time to complete: Undetermined. 

Guiding Questions

  • What type of college admissions essay will most effectively tell my story, provide insight into my dreams and aspirations, or why I am the right match for the college to which I am applying for admission?
  • What are the life experiences that may provide a context for my essay?
  • How will I use the 3Ss and 4Ws to construct a great essay?