The Main Point of Your College App Essay

main point

Know the Main Point You Want to Make
About Yourself In Your Essay!
Or else…

 

I don’t know why I haven’t written about this before. It’s soooooo important to writing a college application essay that will give you that edge in landing your dream school acceptance.

To start off, if you don’t know the Main Point of your college application essay, you are pretty much sunk right off the bat.

In my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell, I’m pretty sure I mentioned this somewhere in my step-by-step process. But I probably should have hammered this topic more.

If you are writing a personal statement style essay for say, The Common Application, or other college applications, the piece needs to be all about you.

So, as in all good writing, you can’t really begin until you have a clear idea of what you want to say. In this case, what you want to say about yourself.

Finding THE MAIN POINT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY ABOUT YOURSELF in your college application essay is similar, actually almost identical, to making a thesis statement.

Ugh. I know. I never liked having to deal with those. They make you think, and also make some hard decisions.

Why? Because you have to boil down your message to its essence. And that ain’t easy.

When you write a personal statement essay, you need to DECIDE what the main thing is you want to say. About yourself.

Trouble is, you can’t say everything. That would take a book.

So you must pick. Narrow it down. Frame it up. Decide on ONE main thing you want to tell these schools about yourself. ONE!

No, you can’t just say how great you are. Or, pick me, pick me, I’m super smart, and a hard worker and also play a mean sax. And did I mention I have 40,000 hours of community service?

Instead, you want to find ONE thing about yourself that you can write about that will help your target colleges and universities:

  1. Differentiate you from the other applicants
  2. Find you likable
  3. See that you are interesting
  4. Get a sense of your “intellectual vitality,” which mainly means you enjoy learning and thinking
  5. Remember you when they are making their cuts

This is where you want to start the brainstorming process to try to identify topics that you can use to show this ONE MAIN POINT about yourself to these schools.

Here are some topics students wrote about in the sample essays in my collection, Heavenly Essays: An obsession with junk collecting. Messing up while waiting tables. Coming from an in vitro egg. Road trip in Winnebago with parents. Getting stuck in a tree. Swallowing a goldfish. Having three older bossy sisters. Smiling too much.

Great topics! However, before these students could write about these ideas, they had to first know…you got it…THE MAIN POINT THEY WANTED TO MAKE ABOUT THEMSELVES in their essays.

Because these essays were not about these topics. They were about these students. And your essay needs to be about you.

main point

When working one-on-one with students, I usually start by having them identify a short list of their defining qualities or characteristics. Then we pick one, and we use that to decide the ONE MAIN POINT they will write about themselves in their essay.

RELATED: How to Find Your Defining Qualities

I don’t know where you are at in the brainstorming or writing process. But see if this helps you identify your MAIN POINT:

Can you write: “I am the type of girl or guy who is _______________________ and it matters because ______________________.” ?

Try to fill in that first blank with one specific description of yourself, such as a defining quality or characteristic. The second blank will help you identify what you value and/or what you learned.

This is how you pick or decide what part of you you are going to showcase in your essay. This will give it focus and allow you to write about yourself without needing an entire book.

Remember, you are going to write about only one part of yourself.

main point

Once you have a clear idea of your MAIN POINT, everything you have to say in your essay will relate, somehow, to this point. Everything you say will support this point, offer examples (little stories of you in action) of this point, explore and explain this point.

Check out this post, How to Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps, to learn how to put together a narrative style personal statement essay that will cover all these goals. And of course, include your main point. You might not need to overtly state your main point, as with a thesis statement, but it will be in there somewhere.

If you want more help, my book, Escape Essay Hell, lays this all out step by step in more detail.

Remember, the MAIN POINT of these college application essays is to help you stand out among the competition. And you can’t stand out unless you first know the MAIN POINT about yourself that will help you do this best.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

How to Record Scratch Your College App Essay Stories

                     

How to Background an Anecdote

(Includes 5 writing examples at the bottom!)

If you’ve done your homework on how to write an effective college application essay, you probably know the place to start is with your real-life stories.

The idea is to find moments, incidents and experiences from your past that illustrate a larger point you want to make about yourself in your essay.

Often, the best place to share an engaging mini-story (also called an anecdote) is at the very start of your piece.

The anecdote (mini-story) serves to “hook” or grab your reader’s interest at the start—something you always want in a standout application essay.

However, once you share that little moment, incident or mini-story (anecdote) that you have plucked out of time with little to no introduction, where do you go after that first paragraph or two? (more…)

How to Self-Reflect for College App Essays

Who Are You?

Tips and Resources to Think About Yourself

If you are working on your personal statement for The Common Application or other college applications, the first step is to start to think about yourself.

Sounds easy enough.

Who am I?

What am I like?

How did I get this way?

What do I care about?

How do I learn?

Why do I matter?

For some students, reflecting on and analyzing their backgrounds can be a snap.

They enjoy that type of introspective, heady thinking.

For others, it can feel intimidating and baffling.

No matter how you feel about this process, you need to know who you are—or at least have some opinions about this—in order to write a meaningful college application essay about yourself. (more…)

Essay Lessons From a College Applicant Superstar

michael brown essay

Photo Via Johnathan Kimble/Courtesy Berthinia Rutledge-Brown

What You Can Learn From

Michael Brown’s College Application Essay

 

I must have watched the viral video of Michael Brown learning he got into Stanford at least three times in a row.

Such a feat and well-deserved accomplishment for what seems like an all-around great kid!

Not only was Michael accepted to 20 of our top learning institutions—including Harvard, Stanford and Yale—but he got a full ride to each of them. As well as more than a quarter million dollars in scholarships. (more…)

Why Kids CAN Write–If You Teach Them How

kids can write

Students Stress Over College App Essays

Because for the First Time They Want to Write

But Realize They Don’t Know How

The New York Times ran an article yesterday called “Why Kids Can’t Write.”

Great piece, but I didn’t agree with the title.

They can write. (Click bait.)

However, as the article chronicled at length, most students have not been taught how to write. The writing experts debated if the problem was at the mechanics end (lack of instruction on writing rules) or the other end with creative writing (lack of opportunity for personal expression through writing.)

I don’t think it’s an either-or issue. (more…)

The Trouble with Boys and College Application Essays

college application essay

Who Writes Better College Application Essays:
Boys or Girls?

When I gave one of my summer college application essay writing boot camps this last weekend in my hometown of Laguna Beach, I had 11 boys and one girl.

As the students showed up, I casually mentioned this gender imbalance to the group and one of the boys quipped: “Because boys can’t write.”

I like to think of myself as someone who is gender neutral, and this comment caught me off guard.

My first thought was: That’s hogwash. (more…)

Cultural Backgrounds Fuel Standout College App Essays

international students

 

Everyone Has a Cultural Background

Yours Could Make an Awesome
College App Essay Topic!

I love working with students from all over the world.

I’m always surprised, however, how many of these students overlook their rich backgrounds when brainstorming topics for their college application essays.

There have been several reasons for this.

Many international students seem to believe that colleges wouldn’t be interested in their country of birth, and the related customs, food, traditions, etc.

These same students also believe they need to appear “Americanized” in order to be attractive to their target schools in the U.S.

They are wrong and wrong. (more…)

How To Give College Admissions Officials Essays They Want

Colleges Love Your Stories
Especially Those That Seem Almost Ordinary!

 

I’ve read several news articles in recent weeks featuring college admissions officials sharing what they liked about college application essays they read over the last year.

This feedback can be invaluable for students just starting to think about their essays and brainstorming topic ideas.

The admissions staffers at some of the best schools in the nation talked about the types of topics they enjoyed, and why they found them effective in learning more about the student applicants, and connecting with them (and admitting them!).

What the articles didn’t include, however, were ideas on exactly how you can find your own unique topics, and craft them into engaging and meaningful essays.

But don’t despair! (more…)

3 Fixes for Cliche College Application Essay Topics

Should You Write About a Cliche Topic
for Your College Application Essay?

If you are just starting brainstorming ideas for your college application essays, one of the first pieces of advice you might stumble upon is to avoid “cliche” topics.

I always warn my students about these often over-used topics, which can include:

Death of loved ones

Sports (especially injuries and victories/losses)

Band

Mission trips (volunteering)

Tutoring (especially special needs kids)

Travel (family trips)

RELATED: College Application Essay Topics to Avoid

The main reason to avoid them is that droves of other students have already written about these topics, so they aren’t as effective at helping you differentiate yourself from other applicants.

HOWEVER… (more…)

Hot Tips for new Common Application Prompt 6

new common application prompt 6

3 HOT TIPS
for
Common App Prompt 6

 

In a previous post, I warned about the possible pitfalls of writing about the new Common Application prompt 6.

My main concern was that in writing about one of your passions — a “topic, idea or concept — you will need to make sure to craft a personal essay that is mainly about YOU!

As opposed to one that is only about the “topic, idea or concept” that you pick to write about.

Read about how to write an essay about the new Common Application prompt 6 that is engaging and personal, instead of academic and dull, in this post:  Common Application Prompt 6: Be Warned.

Then come back to learn three other hot tips on how to write about this tricky prompt. (more…)