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Self Discovery in a Day
There are hundreds of different college essay questions. While many schools use the common application, there are often supplemental questions and short answers as well. At the core of all these questions, however, is one thing you need to know in order to write a successful essay: who are you? Asking a teenager this question is a tall order, but you need to do some self-reflection for the essay. Even if the topic is about another person, experience, or memory, universities typically want the essay coming back to how the story reflects who you are in some way. You don’t need to discover everything about yourself, but you need to do enough reflection to learn an important attribute about yourself and how that has shaped you and will continue to shape you. If you can do this, then you’ve formed the heart of almost every essay prompt. Here’s an exercise that should help: try going through one full day consciously thinking about each moment and what that says about your personality. Each time you think of something, jot down the interaction or experience (no matter how mundane) and what you think that says about you.
This may seem odd at first, but let’s try an example. Here is a sample of what your journal might look like on a typical day:
7:00 AM: Woke up late after hitting the snooze button several times because I was immersed in an incredible dream (this could turn into an essay topic on how this particular dream reflected my ambition and drive).
7:30 AM: Went downstairs after getting ready and decided to eat eggs for breakfast instead of the cereal I typically eat every morning of my life (this could turn into an essay on how routine has guided my life so strongly but I can consciously decide to break free of these imaginary barriers in order to expand my horizons).
10:00 AM: During gym class, we played dodgeball and the friendly game turned into a ferocious battle (this could turn into a light-hearted essay that vividly depicts the dodgeball game, strategy, tactics, and results but ultimately reflects my competitive yet team-oriented nature).
2:00 PM: Walking down the hall to my last class of the day, I stopped to chat with a teacher who ended the conversation with a casual piece of advice (this could turn into an essay that describes a seemingly dull conversation that ended up turning into a self-defining event).
4:00 PM: During my tennis match after school, I played perfectly and still lost (this could turn into an introspective essay that vividly describes the match and the ongoing internal struggle due to losing points even though I was doing everything right).
You’ll notice that these everyday events can set off your imagination and reveal things about yourself that can make for an inspired essay. Many students think they need a never-before-seen, out-of-this-world essay topic, but the truth is that a simple exercise like the one above can make for the most genuine and successful essay. It’s incredible to see how the daily activities we take for granted are often microcosms of who we are. Try this exercise for just one day and see what your sheet of paper looks like at the end of the day. You’ll be amazed at how self-reflective you can be by just exerting in a bit of mental effort throughout the day!
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