College Search Strategies
Portola Valley, CA
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College Search Strategies Blog

Essay Topics: "My Summer Vacation"--interested? Hmm...

As students begin the work of writing essays, we can reflect back to school days when we would have to write about our summer vacation. Remember how you dreaded that first day back to school? I don't think I ever thought that was going to be a very good piece of writing. I hadn't done anything exciting. 

I believe that's what students face each year as they look at the looming prospect of having to write a personal statement for their college apps. This year, in particular, with the new questions, students and some counselors are truly struggling with how to get the "right" answer. 

The good news I believe, is that there is no "right" answer! As Susan Knoppow of WOW Writing Workshops has said, everyone has  a story to tell. The student's job is to tell his/her story in his/her voice using his/her words. MY job as the college counselor is to coach and guide my students to uncover the stories that are uniquely theirs, to write about them in meaningingful ways, to inspire them to tell the truth about growing up in today's world, and share how wonderful they truly are.

The topics students choose to answer the prompts for their college applications, should be less about having the "right" answer and more about telling the readers who they are and how they, as 17 & 18 year olds, have gotten to this place: the college app-- and where they'd like to be going in life, even if they don't really know yet. Growing tomatoes to sell door-to-door or riding bikes across Europe, building houses for the underprivileged, or babysitting a neighborhood kid... it's all good because what the colleges want to know is what does any of that mean to them, the students.

The Essay is all about you, the students, personal and unique. When my students begin to feel uncomfortable or a little silly as they are working on the essays, they are probably getting close to the heart of who they are. And that! is what college admissions readers want to see: YOU.  The essay is an opportunity to show Admissions who you are! As they say at the WOW Writing Workshop: Your Story. Your Voice. Your Words.  With focus, multiple edits, and concentrated effort, students get the essays completed--and senior year becomes about more than college applications. 

So, what about my summer vacation? Well, it's still not all that interesting! But I use the time to reflect on my life and the wonderful lives of the students and families I have the privilege of coaching through the college search....and I probably visit a few college campuses along the way..... just something I love to do....