Seek the light

When brainstorming a college essay with a Collegewise student, our counselors know when a topic has real potential—the moment a student lights up when telling us about it.

That pure, involuntary spark in a student’s face and voice when they tell us all about their favorite class, that one achievement of which they’re most proud, the feeling when they learned they’d been promoted to “shift leader” at their part-time job–whatever it is, genuine emotion cannot be faked. It draws the listener in, wanting to hear even more about the experience that’s generating that reaction right in front of us. And that’s exactly the feeling a good college essay should inspire in the reader.

The best college essays don’t necessarily have to be about positive experiences—they just need to be sincere, engaging, and an effective way for a reader to get to know the real student behind the application. But when the words come freely and easily during a brainstorming session, when the student seems eager to share more, and especially when we see their mood and energy improve, the topic on the table is the fuel that caused the change. And that’s almost always a tale worth exploring for essay potential.

For students writing essays for your applications, seek this light. Go towards those topics that don’t require a lot of cajoling for you to find, and even better, those that you enjoy discussing and exploring with an interested listener.

And for students progressing through your younger high school years, seek this light. Go towards those subjects and teachers who inspire you to learn more. Go towards those activities you’d choose to do even if they had no bearing on your future college applications. Go towards opportunities and experiences that inspire you to bring your best self and work over those you do out of obligation.

Imagine how many stories you’d have to tell when you apply to college. And imagine how much more successful and enjoyable the journey to that time will be.