How do you go from "thinking" about your college application essay to actually writing it? That is a question many rising high school seniors are battling every day.
*Step 1: Gather information. Reflect on your activities and experiences over the last several years.
Try summarizing some of your biggest accomplishments -- favorite courses, sports you've played, clubs you've joined, most unusual summer experiences you've had, etc.
Compile a list of your community service activities.
Write down all your possible college majors and career interests.
Jot down a short list of role models or of the people who have influenced you in school, in your extracurricular activities, within your family and among your friends.
Collect all the best papers you've written for your English and history classes.
Ask yourself about the important milestones in your life as well as the most important relationships. Why are these events and people significant?
Think of stories that are "totally you."
>Step 2: Examine your results.
Ask yourself "why," "what" and "how" questions about each of your lists -- Why was this important? Why did I choose to volunteer? What did I contribute? What did I learn from each of the experiences? How have I changed because of my relationship with that person?
See if there is an underlying theme among all your entries.
Focus on "influence" and "impact" -- how have you been influenced by events or people in your life and how have these experiences led you to have an impact on others?
Remember, a good essay will demonstrate who you are as a person. Don't get caught up writing about how your grandmother has been such an amazing influence in your life with details on every obstacle that she has overcome -- grandma is not applying to college, you are. Make sure the essay is about you -- your strengths, your values, your achievements, etc.
A strong essay will be reflective, introspective and even analytical. Focus on depth not breadth. Think of moments in time that capture what's important to you, a change of belief or a time you struggled.
A good essay is not a laundry list of your accomplishments. Make the reader like you and think you'd be a great addition to their campus. Your essay should make them want to invite you out for a cup of coffee so they can get to know you better.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.