Anatomy of a College Essay

Rising Seniors–it’s time to start working on your college essay.  If that strikes fear in your heart, then I have some advice that may help.  I find the use of an analogy—comparisons that are easy to visualize and understand—and then breaking it down into smaller pieces simplifies this looming task.

Let’s compare your college essay to basic human anatomy.  We can easily break the it down into 5 segments or parts of the body that represent essential elements of the college essay.

  1. The Skeleton Represents Your Experience

Like the skeleton, your experience is the foundation of your essay; it introduces your idea and holds up the rest of the story.  Most writers find it critical to write about something—an important experience, an event that shifted your thinking, an extracurricular activity. That is why we often start the essay-writing process with an in-depth look at what we call your “life resume”—everything you’ve done while in high school (and sometimes earlier).  If you choose an event that in some way made you who you are today, that will hold up your whole essay.

  1. The Blood Represents Your Character

Similar to the way blood flows throughout your body delivering oxygen to your cells, your character is important to the whole essay picture.  Just like oxygen, it is invisible, yet critical to the life of your essay. Ultimately, this is what your essay will demonstrate, and in fact, this is what the college is looking to learn about you.

  1. The Muscle Represents Your Grit

You’ve maybe heard that a good essay will reveal a measure of grit—perseverance, toughness, resilience.  Think of this as how you’ve developed your character muscle.  This is your chance to talk about a challenge you have overcome, difficulties you have faced, initiative you have taken to fix a problem.  Like grit, building muscle requires some pain, persistence and discipline.  Certainly, you have experiences that demonstrate that!

  1. The Heart Represents Your Passion

This metaphor fits on several levels (isn’t that obvious!?).  And while the word passion, like the word grit, has been overused in the college essay, the idea is very important!  Let your essay, no, make your essay show some heart, some excitement, dedication, even vulnerability.  This is the real you, not an oh-so-predictable idea that you think the reader wants to hear.

  1. Your Gut is Where It Starts

Yes, your gut, not your head, produces your essay.  I tell this to my clients even before they hire me. In my essay coaching, I help students find their message authentically.  Good writers use techniques that bring out their stories.  Once you are writing with authenticity, the words come easily.

 Your College Essay Coach

The essay development is my favorite part of the college application process (let’s face it, anyone can fill out a form).  So, if you’d like to talk with me about how to start that essay, contact me here.  I promise that in 2 sessions with me, you’ll have a fabulous essay started! I also really like the work of my colleague Ethan Sawyer (the College Essay Guy), so I invite you to check out his website as well.




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