College Admissions Essays

A Step-By-Step Guide to Telling Your Story


Step 1: Write down 3-5 “defining qualities” about yourself.

Think of how one of your parents would sum you up to a stranger.

My Julie, why, she’s creative, ambitious, caring and has a mean stubborn streak. (You can use short phrases, too. “always tries hard,” “takes risks,” “is a fast study.”)

Step 2: Take one of those qualities and try to think of a time–it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking and probably only lasted about 5 minutes or so–when that quality was challenged, or formed, or tested, proven, or affected/changed.

HUGE HINT: Think about a problem, or an obstacle, conflict, challenge or some type of trouble, that involved you and that quality.

Step 3: If you can find an interesting moment, incident, experience or story to convey about a time when things went wrong for you, BINGO, you could have found a great topic!

ANOTHER HUGE HINT: The incident does not have to be when you fell off a cliff or were hit by a car.

Problems can take many forms, including a personal idiosyncrasy, or phobia, a challenge, or something (big or little, real or in your mind) that tried to stop you from doing something you wanted.

I will stop here. But in a nutshell, you can now relay the problem (in story form, called an “anecdote”) and then explain what you learned, and why, by dealing with it.

Yes, it’s a bit formulaic, but this might help you get going. Read my other posts, How to Write an Anecdote, Show don’t Tell, and Mundane Topics for more great advice.