This lesson will... be most relevant to students who have not been through significant challenges and do know what they want to study.
By the end you should... understand how to reverse engineer your essay, starting with the end in mind (your dream) and describing how the events of your life (your world) helped shape that dream.
Time 7 minutes
College Essay Essentials paperback: pages 59-71     |     ebook: pages 58-70

Sample Essay B: “ENDODONTICS” Essay

Written by a student who has not faced significant challenges, but did know what he wanted to study.

As a kid I was always curious. I was unafraid to ask questions and didn’t worry how dumb they would make me sound. In second grade I enrolled in a summer science program and built a solar-powered oven that baked real cookies. I remember obsessing over the smallest details: Should I paint the oven black to absorb more heat? What about its shape? A spherical shape would allow for more volume, but would it trap heat as well as conventional rectangular ovens? Even then I was obsessed with the details of design.

And it didn’t stop in second grade.

A few years later I designed my first pair of shoes, working for hours to perfect each detail, including whether the laces should be mineral white or diamond white. Even then I sensed that minor differences in tonality could make a huge impact and that different colors could evoke different responses.

In high school I moved on to more advanced projects, teaching myself how to take apart, repair, and customize cell phones. Whether I was adjusting the flex cords that connect the IPS LCD to the iPhone motherboard, or replacing the vibrator motor, I loved discovering the many engineering feats Apple overcame in its efforts to combine form with function.

And once I obtained my driver’s license, I began working on cars. Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch, as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.

My love of details applies to my schoolwork too.

I’m the math geek who marvels at the fundamental theorems of Calculus, or who sees beauty in A=(s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c))^(1/2). Again, it’s in the details: one bracket off or one digit missing and the whole equation collapses. And details are more than details, they can mean the difference between negative and positive infinity, an impossible range of solutions.

I also love sharing this appreciation with others and have taken it upon myself to personally eradicate mathonumophobiconfundosis, my Calculus teacher’s term for “extreme fear of Math.” A small group of other students and I have devoted our after-school time to tutoring our peers in everything from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus B/C and I believe my fluency in Hebrew and Farsi has helped me connect with some of my school’s Israeli and Iranian students. There’s nothing better than seeing a student solve a difficult problem without me saying anything.

You probably think I want to be a designer. Or perhaps an engineer?

Wrong. Well, kind of.

Actually, I want to study Endodontics, which is (I’ll save you the Wikipedia look-up) a branch of dentistry that deals with the tooth pulp and the tissues surrounding the root of a tooth. As an Endodontist, I’ll be working to repair damaged teeth by performing precision root canals and implementing dental crowns. Sound exciting? It is to me.

The fact is, it’s not unlike the work I’ve been doing repairing cellphone circuits and modifying cars, though there is one small difference. In the future I’ll still be working to repair machines, but this machine is one of the most sophisticated machines ever created: the human body. Here, my obsession with details will be as crucial as ever. A one millimeter difference can mean the difference between a successful root canal and a lawsuit.

The question is: will the toothbrushes I hand out be mineral white or diamond white?

(Word count: 598)

The Type B Essay: Writing Your Essay Backwards

This essay employs the Montage Structure.

And by the way, isn’t it nice to know that you don’t have to have experienced extraordinary challenges to write a great college essay? (See essay above.) If you know what you want to study but did not experience significant challenges, you can reverse-engineer your essay. Here’s what I mean:

PART ONE: Essential Qualities

  • At the top of a blank sheet of paper in the center of the page write down the name of the career you’re likely to pursue.
  • Underneath that, on the right side, write “Qualities of an excellent [Write your career here: doctor/teacher/businessperson, etc.].”
  • Make a list of the qualities necessary to excel in whichever field you’ve chosen. If, for example, you want to study business, you might consider “ability to work well with others” and “leadership skills” on your list.
  • If you’re having trouble coming up with a list, refer to the “Values” sheet at the end of this document.
  • List at least five qualities along the right side of the paper. This is your “tell” column.

PART TWO: How I’ve Demonstrated these Qualities in My Life

  • On the left side of your page write at the top “How I’ve Demonstrated These Qualities in My Life.”
  • For each quality in your “tell” column, write down a specific moment/example from your life that SHOWS that you have developed this quality. (For example, if you wrote “ability to work well with others” in your right hand column, write in the left hand column a specific instance that shows you work well with others—the time you worked with a large group to organize the Dance Marathon at your school, for example. Or if you’ve written “good listener” in the right hand column you might describe how while volunteering at the hospital you found that the patients often felt comfortable sharing with you their life stories with you.)
  • Keep going until the left hand column is filled with examples that show the qualities that you tell in the right hand column. Remember: the left hand column will be “show” and the right hand column will be “tell.” 


How I’ve Demonstrated These Qualities  

  • After-school math tutoring 
  • Designing my own shoes
  • Taking apart machines? 
  • Always asked questions as a kid

Qualities of a Great Endodontist

  • Desire to help others
  • Detail focused
  • Interested in how human body works
  • Curiosity

Write one paragraph on each element on the left hand column (this is your show).

Don’t reveal (tell) the qualities in the right hand column until the last or second to last paragraph.

« Previous: Type A Essay & Analysis | Next: Type C Essay & Analysis »


Take my How to Write a Personal Statement video course
Watch any time • Pay what you can • 100% guaranteed