Write Great College Application Essays and Stay Sane, Part 10: How to Use Sample Essays

Writing Your College EssayTake a look at these sample college essays or a book of application essays and find sample essays that you like. Make an outline of one or two of them. Then, after you have outlined an essay by someone else, substitute your personal experience to make an outline of something similar that you could write.   In this way, you will learn about the essay’s strategy in a hands-on manner and be able to incorporate the patterns of thinking without thinking too hard. Your organization of experience will fall into place. You will also see how every finished essay has a moment at the end that makes the speaker feel he or she has looped back to the opening. Something comes full circle and announces that this is a satisfying moment with which to end the essay.

Reviewing How the Patterns of Thinking Help

Writing about her background, the first student in our examples chose to define herself as a student of languages and talk about what goes into those studies. The second student narrated a cause and effect story of losing her friendship and what happened in her as a consequence.

As you outline, you will come to see the shape of various essays, how the essays use particular patterns of thinking as strategies for keeping the information coherent and moving along to insight. Experiencing the shape of individual essays and applying the shapes to your own experience by making the outlines your own will help you learn the significance of your experience — the reason you are presenting this experience to the admissions committee (a deeper reason than just because you are required to write an essay — a reason from inside the essay itself).  When you learn something new by viewing your experience through the lens of the essay’s pattern of thinking, there is a lively quality to the writing that impresses the readers who are considering your application — you appear alive and not canned, someone who is invested in becoming a great person.

Something to know: The word essay comes from the French word meaning “to assay.”  An essay is an inquiry into experience — a finding out what is true. It is something we read to find out how a particular person thinks and enrich our own experience vicariously.  Outlining how others have done it allows you to find out the mechanism by which you are following their thinking and to make this mechanism something you can use in presenting your “assaying.”  Sometimes finding out what is true through writing and allowing others to see you searching for the truth makes you feel vulnerable and shy about showing what you have written. A good notion to hold onto is that people who show their vulnerability are also showing their strengths and are usually much admired and have others soon feeling close to them.

Thanks for joining us as we continue with Staying Sane through the College Essay Writing Process, an ongoing series that offers college applicants and their parents advice on how to stay on track for completing Ivy-worthy essays…without flying off the handle. We hope you enjoyed this next part of the series, and STAY SANE!

Sheila BenderBy Sheila Bender, former Accepted.com editor and founder of Writing it Real, a “community and resource center for writing from personal experience.”