One of the best ways to connect with your reader in your college application essay is through emotion.
In my new book, Escape Essay Hell!, I share writing techniques and devices you can use to bring pathos to your essay, and forge a bond with your reader.
(With my following suggestions, I’m assuming you already have an introduction—probably an anecdote or mini-story—for your narrative essay, and have moved on to explain what it meant to you.)
If you have an essay that starts by using an example of a mini-story, or relating “a time” something happened or you experienced, you must then interpret that story for the reader. What did that incident mean?
While analyzing, explaining and reflecting on what you learned in the later part of your essay, the following tips and advice can help you make it more heartfelt, earnest and meaningful.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter Six of Escape Essay Hell!: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Standout College Application Essays:
Open Up About Yourself
When you reveal your inner thoughts and feelings, this helps the reader empathize with you—and makes you feel real and human. Showing vulnerability and authenticity takes a lot of courage.
For college essays, that’s good stuff—since it sets you apart from the crowd, forges a deeper connection with the reader and shows the maturity to be introspective and open about yourself.
Show Some Emotion
Once you told your anecdote, and then put it in context with some background (It all started…), you can pick up the story line to show us what happened next.
If you started by describing a problem, now is the time to let us know how it all made you feel.
This is how we relate to your pain and understand why we should care about you and your problem.
You don’t need to overdo this part; just a quick sentence or two and we will get the idea.
Think back to how you were feeling at the lowest point.
In the sample anecdote about the student thrown into a busy restaurant kitchen, he might have said, “I knew I was over my head.” Or “I started feeling dizzy and almost bolted out the door.”
Other ways to let the reader in on your emotional reaction to the problem: “I thought my world was over.” “I thought my parents would kill me.”
“I felt like pulling the covers over my head and staying in bed for the rest of my life.”
“I felt trapped, as though I had no where to turn.”
“I never thought I would figure it out.”
If you didn’t include any dialogue—quoting yourself or someone else—in your anecdote, you might consider dropping in a line or two when you background your story.
You can use it to add drama to your story, such as a snippet from a key player in the story, or even quote yourself.
Describing your inner dialogue or thoughts, or even those of others in the story, is one of the best ways to give your essay that “narrative” style and tone.
Usually you only need a few words, or a short line or two.
Dialogue makes the essay read more like a novel or short story (fiction!), even though it’s true.
If it was something you thought, just let the reader know that.
Example: “You are never going to reach the top of that mountain,” I thought to myself while looking up the steep cliff.
Example: “Why do I always chicken out at the last minute?” I asked myself.
HOT TIP: Another trick to writing dialogue is to try to compress it.
Once you write a couple sentences, or a quick exchange between yourself and someone else, try cutting it down.
Usually, you can get the point across with fewer words than you think, and they end up snappier sounding, too.
If you are using dialogue–say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
END OF ESCAPE ESSAY HELL! EXCERPT
I am writing the draft of my common app essay. The topic is really emotional to me and I want my essay to reflect how I truly feel. Your post was very helpful for finding the right tone. I was thinking,what you said about the dialogue. There has no one with whom I’ve shared this feeling, but I did talk with myself in front of a mirror. I asked myself several times why I was a coward ? Can I make a dialogue in my essay with the conversation I had with myself ? How should I approach with it ?
Your essay topic sound very provocative. And yes, emotionally charged subjects can be tricky to handle. I love the idea of you talking to yourself in the mirror (I assume about this emotional issue?) This may be way off, but here’s an example of how you might handle that exchange:
Staring in the bathroom mirror, I forced myself to look directly into my own eyes. After blinking back a few tears, I decided to see if I could give myself some good advice. I felt a little ridiculous, but there was no one else to turn to.
“So why are you letting this get to you so much?” I asked the sad-looking teenager in front of me. “Isn’t it time you moved on?
(now give the “back story”) It had been four months since the accident, and I was still finding it difficult to accept…….
Hope this helps! Just let the reader see you where you were, and share some of the conversation. Give it a shot! I bet it turns out great. Janine Robinson
That was really really helpful. You are a genius. Just one more thing, the introduction of my essay will be an anecdote of how I felt after the incident,( a conversation). Then, after giving a bit of ‘back story’ could I give another anecdote (of that incident ), how I felt when it all happened right in front of me and how I did nothing but to sit and watch with horror ?
I know this will be a tough catch. But, they say your essay should be something only you can tell, and this incident, I will be writing about(# prompt 2) , I failed to protect someone very close to me, who has been my true source of inspiration ever since. That actually made me a different person. I want to show the reader how I truly felt and what I experienced.
I am writing a personal essay to my stepdad for the day that my mother and I leave the house when their divorce gets finalized. In this essay I am expressing the feelings that my mother and I have felt. The pain that he has caused on my mother. I have already wrote it but I am not exactly happy with it because I feel like it isn’t showing as much emotion as I would like. I want him to almost feel her pain just by reading my paper, how can I do so?
you should kys
i want to write my college essay about how i love teaching. I used to use the wall of my living room as a board in the childhood. As i grew up, i started teaching my peers. And, finally during my high school i got the opportunity to work in a community school as a volunteer.
i have tried writing my college essay on so many topics. but none seem to work out. for this topic too, there’s no twist and i think it sounds boring too. what do i do? i’m very perplexed.
i loved teaching from my childhood. i used to use my living room’s wall as a board in my early years. as i grew up, i loved teaching my peers. and during highschool, i got the opportunity to help out in a community school.
i’ve tried writing my college application on several topics and it never worked out. i think this may work out but there’s no twist in here. it’s too straightforward and uninteresting i guess. i’m very perplexed right now. what do i do?
i’ve always wanted to be a teacher since my childhood. i used my living room’s wall as a board. as i grew up, i taught my peers. and in highschool volunteered in a community school.
i have tried writing on several topics for college essay and none seem to work out. it seems this topic is pretty straightforward too. what do i do? i’m very perplexed.
I’m writing an essay for a scholarship application and I’m kinda nervous because I don’t want to say too much. Plus is it appropraite to talk about a break up experience.
In general, writing about romantic break-ups is considered overdone and not encouraged in these essays. If it had huge impact on you, you could mention it but quickly go into explaining what you learned in dealing with it.