Seniors–Get out there!


It’s summer. Life is good. No homework. No required reading. No project to procrastinate on.

Junior year was good. You kept your grades up. Took advantage of your school’s college-level offerings. Did some work on those SAT vocabulary words. Did some college searches. You know that the Common Application is going to be posted any time. No worries!

What are you going to write your college essay on? The time you coached soccer to first graders when you were a freshman? Your super cool Spanish class trip to Costa Rica? The concert in band you got to play the National Anthem?

Please don’t get me wrong. These are all great experiences; however, for writing the topic of the college admissions essay, not so much. Lots of high school students have these experiences. One of the first lessons of a good application is that it shows the individualistic nature of the student. Don’t write about something that everyone else has done. Find something different.

When I urge my students to do this, they often push back and say, “I can’t climb Mt. Everest.” Unfortunately, my advice gets taken too literally. Of course, you can’t climb Everest, solve the assassination of JFK or discover some lost civilization in the jungles of Ecuador. The key is not the size but the unique quality of the experience, and most importantly, its ties to you and who you are.

My advice is to use August to do find such an experience:

  1. Take a trip someplace interesting. Again, you probably want to safari in Africa, but can’t afford to. So, find someplace local like a National Historic site, a state park, a state historic site. If you live in the Rochester area, like I do, try the National Women’s Hall of Fame or Mt. Hope Cemetery, or Ganandagan.
  2. See if you can spend a day at a business that has something to do with your major. Find out what a day in the life of your profession looks like.
  3. Visit a show at the local art gallery or museum. The Memorial Art Gallery has an exhibit on right now of Renaissance art.
  4. Try a sport or activity that you haven’t. Go sailing. Take a hike.
  5. Colleges and bookstores (more likely in the summer time than the colleges) often have interesting speakers. Go see someone speaking on a topic of personal, local or national interest.

Once you come back from any of these trips, take some notes. Write down physical details you remember. What observations did you have? Try to capture the sights, sounds, smells of your experience. What images stand out for you? Any interesting conversations? What’d you get out of your trip? What were your overall impressions? What surprised or shocked you?

Because essays need to be narrative and show the experience and you, these details can be the foundation for an interesting piece of writing about you and something you did to reveal something about yourself.

Get out there.