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This lesson covers... four possible paths for your personal statement.
By the end you should... feel like you’re at the start of a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Time 3 minutes
College Essay Essentials paperback: pages 20-38     |     ebook: pages 21-38


First, ask yourself two questions: 

  1. Have you faced significant challenges? (You define "significant.")

  2. Do you know what you want to study?

Based on these two answers, take a look at the chart above and see which essay approach might work for you.

Get this: You can write a great essay whether you've been through challenges or not, and whether you know what you want to study or not.

The question is: How?

The answer: Find the right structure.

Let me explain...

I believe a good college essay should either:

  1. go deep, discussing one moment that fundamentally changed your life, or

  2. go wide, discussing many different elements of your life.

The Narrative Structure, will help you go deep, while the Montage Structure will help you go wide. We'll discuss both structures in the next two sections.

Note that I don’t believe people can generally be reduced to “types.” So if it pains you to think of yourself as a “type” of student, just think of these as different types of strategies.

It’s also important to note that these categories are fluid and it’s possible to move from one to another. A student who has faced significant challenges but doesn’t know what s/he wants to study (Category C), for example, may discover, through a process of research or counseling, what s/he would like to study and so move to Category A. Similarly, a student who has not faced significant challenges and does not know what s/he wants to study (Category D) may discover, through self-reflection or counseling, that s/he has indeed faced significant challenges, and so move to Category C. I recommend reading all the examples; you never know what might resonate.

Finally: There is no surefire approach for essay writing. No essay will, on its own, get a student into a college. Many different students are accepted to colleges each year with many different types of essays. Having said that, the task of the college essay is to shape the student’s life into a coherent narrative. What follows are some strategies that have helped some of my students do just that.

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