What’s your long-term goal?
When you begin an essay, try your hand at showing yourself having reached your long-term goal, rather than merely stating what it is. Are you talking on the phone to clients about your electronics recycling system? Video conferencing with workers in a Southeast Asian outsourcing company? Helping NGOs build professional networks through available connectivity products?
Where are you sitting or standing? What are you saying? What happens because of what you are saying? How have you been able to get to this point? What is the next goal you want to reach?
It is not hard to go from something tangible–a person executing job responsibilities–to an analysis of what that person needs to add to his or her knowledge bank to reach that career goal.
What are your community service activities?
Help the admissions committee members get excited about the way you serve your community by showing scenes of yourself involved in particular community service. Are you talking with a mentally or physically disabled client? Are you on the phone with a donor or sponsor for a fund raising event? Are you searching for talent for entertainment at an event? Are you on a sponsored sports team? What does it look like where you are? What are you doing? What are you saying or thinking or feeling and what happens as a consequence of what you have done? What have you learned from the experience? How do you know you learned it?
How has your family and cultural background influenced who you are today?
Show yourself with your family in a typical room or event or show yourself alone and missing them. Or show yourself with them at a time that was definitive for everyone. Who is talking? What is he or she saying? How did the outcome matter to you? What did it teach you?
How would you describe a time you executed a plan?
Start in the thick of it. Who is doing what? Why? How did you come up with this plan? What is the next step for everyone? What does that look like? What is the impact of your plans success?
Are you working on an essay about a time you demonstrated leadership?
Put yourself in the midst of the event where you are the leader. Who else is involved? How did you contact them? What did you suggest they do and why? Where were you when you realized you had led successfully? What does this example of leadership tell you about the attributes leadership requires?
Do you need to write about participating in a particular extra curricular activity?
Show the committee what the activity requires of you by placing yourself in a scene from that activity. What equipment are you handling? What are the dangers or pitfalls you must avoid? What are you and others saying? What are you hoping for by participating in this activity? What does your participation mean to you and to others?
Building scenes lets you start your essays without using exposition just to fill the reader in. If after you start the scene, you realize you do need to fill the reader in on some details, you can do so because after you have established the scene, the reader will already be interested in learning more and the exposition will not jar the reader out of the picture.
By Sheila Bender, author of many books on writing, including How to Write Great College Application Essays and Stay Sane and Perfect Phrases for Writing College Application Essays.