College Admissions Essays

How to Find “The Unexpected” in Your College Application Essay or Personal Narrative

One way to add snap, crackle and pop to your college application essay is to give it a little twist.

What’s a twist?

It can be many things, but usually it offers some sort of surprise, an irony or something unexpected.

When writing about yourself, be on the lookout for your own personal life twists.

In simple terms, a twist can be anything that isn’t what you would think or expect.

Why do these work so beautifully in college application essays?

Because they a. are delightful to read because they break away from the predictable b. they often involve a problem, which needs solving and provokes personal change, and c. they show how you respond, adjust and learn.

All rich essay compost!


One client wrote a personal statement about how she was always at the top of her game, whether it was in her classes, sports or her favorite extracurricular activity, drama.

She told about the time she was certain she landed the lead role in the school musical, and her shock when someone told her someone else got the part.

Her essay focused on how she learned that supporting roles in plays, as well as in life, can be as valuable as being the leading lady. What was the twist?

In this case, she didn’t get what she expected.

It was a surprise for her not to be the star.

Other examples?

The girl who was 4 feet, 8 inches tall who pursued the high jump.

The boy who loved cars but ended up loving the public bus system.

The girl with size 9 feet who thought her big feet would end her dance career, but instead she excelled.

The girl who sprained her ankle in volleyball, but learned more about the game sitting on the bench.

The boy who was afraid of heights, but spent the summer washing windows on high rises.

The girl with an entire family of slobs who became a perfectionist. The boy who lived in a surf town, but hated the beach and what he did instead.

The boy who had a “bad smell” in his car, and realized he had a “bad smell” in his life, too.

The boy who was so obsessed with technology that he always waited for the next cool gadget but always had old ones.

Of course, you can’t find a twist if there isn’t one.

The last thing you want to do with your college application essay is to use a gimmick.

But when you are brainstorming for topic ideas, be on the lookout for twists.

They have the power to turn a dull essay into a real shaker, like Chubby Checker!