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6 Tips to Make Brainstorming for the College Admissions Essay Enjoyable

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It’s time to start brainstorming for your college essay! If you find the prospect of brainstorming to be far less fun than a.) sleeping outside b.) tattooing your tongue or c.) bathing in hot chili oil, don’t despair. We have six stellar suggestions for how to make brainstorming not only effective, but even (gasp!) fun:


Think about where you do your best work. Maybe you love to work at home with the TV blaring or in total silence at the library; maybe you do your best work at night or first thing in the morning. Choose an environment that inspires you so that brainstorming is pleasant and productive!


Read over this year’s prompts for the Common Application. Consider them. Then put them aside–forget them!


Go back in time. Start with this year and move backwards. Think about every moment that stood out to you—moments that felt important to you, that defined who you are. Maybe it was the time that you stayed up all night making a Halloween costume using only Pokemon cards and duct tape, or baked a wedding cake for your favorite aunt that exploded in your parents’ oven. Maybe it was the time that you failed to make varsity basketball but worked so hard on the JV team that you were voted MVP. It can be anything as long as it is meaningful to you!


Looking back over the past few years, what moments are you most proud of? What are the biggest challenges that you have faced? What are you most passionate about? What fascinates you? Who or what inspires you? What do you do to relax? Do you shoot hoops with your twin brother, tinker in your dad’s garage, or choreograph hip-hop music? Reflect on all your different sides, and all your collected experiences!


Write down ALL of your ideas. For some of us, listing every idea works well. For the more visually-oriented, making what is called a bubble map can be helpful. Start by placing a topic in the center of the page and drawing a circle around it. Then, as related words and ideas come to mind, write them, circle them, and connect them to the circles containing related ideas. Lastly, you can try freewriting: set a timer and write down everything that comes to your mind for 20 minutes. Whichever method you choose, don’t hold anything back. Let your ideas flow!


After you are finished writing down your ideas, put them away for a day or two. Talk them over with friends and family. Then come back to them, choosing a topic that you are excited to write about–one that tells a story about you that can’t be gleaned from your resume and transcript, that captures who you are on a personal level! Once you have your golden topic, you can go back to the list of prompts for the Common Application and find one that fits your topic. You are now ready to get down to business and write a fantastic college admissions essay (and defeat The Huns, obvi).

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