The main college essay, also known as the personal statement, is vital to the college application. This is a 500-650 word essay where applicants can express their individuality and demonstrate their potential contributions to the college community. Through this essay, admission officers seek to understand the applicant's identity, assess their potential impact on campus, and evaluate their writing abilities.
To brainstorm essay topics, students should think about whether they want to write about a significant life event that has shaped them or smaller moments that showcase their values and personality. It is a common misconception that students have to write about a dramatic event. The best essays I’ve helped coach are often about little moments that show the student’s quirks and interests. I advise against exaggerating or forcing a challenge if it does not reflect a student’s experience.
When structuring the essay, students can choose between two approaches: Narrative Structure and Montage Structure. Narrative Structure describes challenges, while Montage Structure connects different moments or events with a common theme. Ultimately, students should explore different structures and select the one that aligns best with their essay topic and personal writing style.
Common personal statement topics often revolve around extracurricular activities, service trips, sports injuries, family hardships, and inspirational figures. I am not discouraging students from writing about these topics, but I want to note that they are more difficult to write about uniquely due to overuse. To stand out, it is crucial to approach these topics with unique storytelling, unexpected connections, insightful perspectives, or innovative language.
Alternatively, exploring a different and less commonly chosen topic can be an effective strategy. Each student possesses infinite complexity and imagination, which allows for exploring the various aspects of their lives and experiences. By selecting a less predictable topic, applicants have a better chance of capturing the admission officers' attention and showcasing their individuality.
For more guidance and personalized coaching on brainstorming main essay topics, schedule a 1:1 appointment with me to learn more about Resume All Day’s college essay coaching services.