Brainstorm THE LIST to Get Started Writing Your College Application Essay

July 14, 2014  Now is the time when many students entering 12th grade are starting to think about writing their college application essays. Of course, there are an equal or perhaps larger number of students entering 12th grade who are thinking about not writing their college essays.

This blog posting is for all of you. Like every writer I know, I am an expert in the art of procrastination. I know all the tricks to avoid working on writing projects that have me intimidated, because writing is a journey into the unknown that can be very powerful:  both scary and exciting.

Because most writers are experts on procrastinating, we also learn to master techniques that get the words flowing onto the page.  We all love to experience that juicy feeling of satisfaction that keeps us going. When it comes to writing your college application essay, there are many ways to get started. My favorite is THE LIST.

Set a timer for yourself for five or ten minutes.

Use a timer when writing a list for your college application essay.

Use a timer when writing a list for your college application essay.

Brainstorm for that period of time, then stop, or take a short break and set the timer again. Don’t think—just write the first thoughts that pop into your head! There are many types of lists that one can write to get started on the college application essay. Here are a few:

1. Common Application Prompts List—Surf on over to Look at all five of the prompts, and spend five minutes on each one, writing a list of ideas that come to you. Try to recall an incident, a moment, or an experience that makes you feel good about yourself. It might be a time that you helped someone else, it might be a time when you mastered something that you were working on, it might be a time when you read a book or saw a movie or had a realization and it changed you.

[Read “Which Common Application Prompt Should You Choose?” for more ideas. ]

2. Five ways I am different from my friends—You are unique. Start thinking about some ways that you can stand out.

3. Five subjects I could talk about for an hour—What do you feel passionate about? The best topics involve something you have done something about. For example, if you are interested in music, have you taken lessons? Joined a choir? Where have you played? Have you had any interesting experiences performing?

4. Five things that have surprised me in the last two years—The best way to write an interesting essay is to write about a topic that you find exciting! Your passion will pour onto the page. What happened to surprise you? How did it change you?

After you have a list, the next step is to free-write on one of the topics that attracts you.  Set a timer for ten minutes, keep your pen moving, don’t judge what you write, just get some thoughts and images onto the page. You can’t edit a blank page.  Good going!  You’ve started.  Write on.

[Need more assistance with writing your story or your college application essay? Write We educate and motivate. You create.]

Duck timer creative commons photo courtesy of tanakawho.