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Jul 7th

Defining Qualities Rock College Application Essays!

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Defining Qualities Rock College Application Essays!

A number of my tutoring students skim through a college application essay prompt ( such as the five options for The Common Application essay requirement), and in a flash, find one that speaks to them.

Others come armed with a long set of topic ideas they have been toying with for weeks.

But most, I would say more than 80 percent, have no clue where to start.

And it’s a terrible feeling.

‘There’s nothing special about me,’ is the common keep from these glum and anxious rising seniors.

‘ I’m just normal and boring,’ they say.

I listen for a bit. And try to assure them they’re going to find an awesome topic ( because they all do!).

Once they calm down, I introduce them to my sure-fire topic finding bag of tricks.

I almost always start by searching for what I call their ‘defining qualities.’ Sometimes I throw in their ‘defining qualities’ and ‘core values’ as well.

Why does this work?

If you start brainstorming your topic ideas around one of your defining qualities, you automatically direct your essay writing process in the right path, on many levels.

And your essay will be focused and help you stand out from the competition!

Here Are 5 Reasoned Explanations Why Defining Qualitiesare The Best Place to Start

If you start with ONE defining quality, your college application will…

  1. Have a sharp FOCUS!By directing your brainstorming around ONE of your defining qualities, you effortlessly focus your topic. In place of trying to write about many elements of your wonderful self, and risking an extremely broad and dull essay, you select one to concentrate everything around.With this one move, you catapult your essay topic over and beyond the huge number of boring essays where students make an effort to pack in too many a few ideas and information regarding themselves.
  2. Feature engaging STORIES!Once you pick ONE defining quality to write about, there is a starting point to brainstorm real-life experiences and min-stories you can use to illustrate that quality. Stories are the best way to power narrative style personal essays.If you generate these real-life examples from ONE defining quality, you make sure you share only stories, experiences and moments that support your overarching point, in place of random ones which can be all over the place.
  3. Will undoubtedly be about YOU! If you showcase only ONE defining quality in your essay, you are making certain that your essay would be about you, even if you include or mention people from you life in that essay. a common mistake students make with your essays is to utilize a real-life story about somebody else, and their essay ends up being too much about that other person instead of themselves.The whole point of a personal statement essay is for the college to make the journey to know YOU, and not your grandma or teacher or tutoring student. Stick with your ONE defining quality, and you won’t need to worry excessively concerning this pitfall.
  4. Your stories would be RELEVANT!If you start brainstorming real-life stories around your ONE defining quality, you will be 100 percent guaranteed to find good ones. Think about it: If you picked ONE defining quality that is a big part of what make you unique and special, then can’t help but have had experiences and moments in your past that happened to you that were somehow linked to that quality.So trust that picking only ONE quality will yield plenty of terrific a few ideas and experiences you need to use in your essay to generally share, explain, analyze and reflect upon.
  5. Your essay is supposed to be PERSONAL!If you write about a defining quality, yous essay has the best chance possible of being highly personal. I really believe personal essays are most effective because they engage and connect with readers, and generally are the absolute most memorable. That is whatever you want in a college application essay.Writing about ONE defining quality makes an essay personal because that quality is one that helps define you meaning it plays a big role to make you . What’s more personal than that? And the little moments and experiences you use to illustrate that quality would be equally personal. Hurrah!!

So that should really be a good enough case to convince you to start by coming up with a set of your defining qualities or qualities.

This entire weblog has helpful posts to teach you how to spin that quality in to a killer essay! So does my writing guide, Escape Essay Hell!, and my online essay writing course.

Even almost all the sample essays published by former students in my own collection, called Heavenly Essays, started with regards to defining qualities.

So what are you currently looking forward to? Stop all your worrying and get started!

Find Your Defining Qualities and Characteristics in this post!

However confused or have any questions? Ask away into the comments section. I love to hear from you!

No doubt about it.

Supplemental essays are the nasty little vexation of the college application process. ( And you thought the Common App essay was a pain!)

I suggest students first tackle writing their core essay for The normal Application, or other applications that require a longer, personal-statement type of essay.

Get that out of the way first. It’s the hardest and most important.

But it’s never prematurily . to start knocking off those pesky reduced essays, known as supplemental essays.

Many colleges and universities have already released the prompts because of their required supplemental essays for 2016-17.

First, collect a list of all supplemental essays you need to answer in one single destination ( find the prompts for the supplemental essays required by each of your target schools on their internet sites or on the normal Application.).

Look for ones that ask for common topics or themes, even though the actual questions might vary.

Generally speaking, supplemental essays get into three categories:

  1. The prompts which can be asked more often by many schools. These include those that ask:a. Why are you a fit for our university?b. Tell us about your intended major or field of study.c. Come up with one of your extracurricular interests, or a academic interest, or a talent/accomplishment/passion/goal, etc.d. Tell us about your ‘world,’ or cultural background, family, community, area, etc.
  2. The other common type of supps ask more specific questions, and often provide a famous quote or statement and have you to respond to it.Here’s an example from Tufts University 2016-17 supps:’There is a Quaker saying: ‘Let your life speak.’ Describe the environmental surroundings in which you were raised your household, home, area, or community and how it inspired the person you will be today. (200 250 words)
  3. The new kid on the supp block are the prompts which can be ‘out-of-the-box’ and generally are trying to get students to showcase their imagination, personality and creativity.Some examples: a. Where’s Waldo? b. Create a class c. What’s your favorite word? d. What is square one?

If you’d like to get very organized, sort your list of supplemental essays into these 3 categories to greatly help identify commonalities and overlapping questions.

This should help you see how you need to use similar a few ideas, experiences, details, topics and answers for your short essay responses.

You will likely discover the most crossover in supps into the category No. 1 since those are the common supp questions.

But you might be surprised how you can reuse from all three categories. (Notice how the Tufts prompts about that Quaker quote actually is asking you about your ‘world’ or community. This topic also is one of the most common prompts for supplemental essays from the first No. 1 group. See how they overlap?)

The idea is that you make your life easier by recycling your best ideas in these supps. It’s totally kosher to repeat answers and themes because each university has their separate supplemental essays and does not see or value what you send towards the others.

For example, if you experienced a unique experience where you learned anything important, chances are you can mine that experience to help answer more than one supplemental essay.

The main element is always to identify what lessons you gleaned from that experience, and zero in on specific examples that you can share in your supplemental essay about it.

It wouldn’t hurt to brainstorm and collect a few ideas and experiences on a piece of paper or computer file that you can develop and refer back again to when working on these supplemental essays. Maybe pull out your resume or any other set of your activities and accomplishments to spark a few ideas.

You will start to see how certain experiences and activities line up because of the different supplemental essay prompts.


Say, for example, you are searching for science, and at this point, think you might want to study marine biology.

Great! This self-knowledge should help you answer questions from No. 1, such as for example what you intend to study and why you are a fit at a certain school.

The trick is to identify details from past, related experiences that first inspired your interest in this subject, in addition to research details from your target schools that would help you develop that interest further.

Also, if you are asked to write about an extracurricular or academic activity or interest or talent or accomplishment, start by brainstorming any experiences linked to your curiosity about science and specifically marine biology.


If you are a student which still has no clue really what you want to major in or study in college, don’t worry! You are in the majority of college-bound kids.

What I recommend for you is to focus more on your defining qualities and core values and brainstorm related experiences to help you find details to simply help answer those same prompts in No. 1. (Find your defining qualities HERE.)

In place of lining up your responses centered on a specific interest, you will make use of a quality or value to spot related moments or experiences that illustrate them.

For example, if you are telling a college why it’s perfect for you, speak about one specific core value you hold and explain how and why you developed it (using specific details from your past), and how and why (also using details) that target school has programs, course, facilities, etc. that would help you continue to develop it.

A more specific exemplory instance of this?

Say one of your defining qualities is being innovative. Think of ‘times’ and experiences from your past when you’ve got used this quality, including the time you helped run a fundraiser for orphaned iguanas at your school, or the time you interned at a hospital and helped adapt a wheelchair for a blind patient.

You may then mention these specific experiences to answer a number of prompts, including the Why You at Our School? ( because your target school also encourages innovation…) to talk about an accomplishment (recount one of these ‘times’ you did anything innovative) to tell us about your ‘world’ (talk about the wheelchair in that hospital ‘world’ or community).

I am aware this is a lot to take in. (Keep breathing! This will make more sense once you get started.)

To simplify, brainstorm two lists to spur a few ideas for these supplemental essays:

1. set of interesting activities/experiences/moments…2. shorts set of core values and defining personal qualities

From there, start to dig up those KEY details and specific experiences that may give you anything interesting and original to include in your supplemental essays aside from the conventional, over-general dribble.

All you need is just one juicy detail to make all the difference. Why? They are so short!! (And most students don’t try this.)


Okay, I have one more nifty tip for you on these supplemental essays.

For almost any of those prompts, even the most ‘crazy’ ones, this works wonders:

  1. Read the prompt and think of what you general answer would be. Then think some more to find anything specific that happened to you that was related in some solution to your general answer.
  2. Chances are that thing that happened involved some type of problem (challenge, obstacle, change, failure, setback, accident, etc.). It doesn’t have to be a huge crises. Any little, related problem is going to do.
  3. Think about what you learned from handling that problem.

See when you can use that life lesson in your supplemental essay. Chances are that incident or experience can work as being a specific exemplory instance of a larger point you make about yourself in that essay. Also it will make your essay more personal, which you want!

The big secret to bumping up a generic supplemental essay is to add details and specific examples. Of course, you’ll likely have to add some broad, sweeping statements, but make sure to pop in those smaller details to prove or support your points.


The ‘Why Do You Fit?’ Supplemental Essay Prompt: Don’t just say the method that you love the team spirit at your target school. Tell them how there is a collection of over 30 over their sports team’s hats, including a vintage one that you only take off at church.

The Extracurricular Supplemental Essay Prompt: Don’t tell them the method that you are really a talented piano player while having won many awards. Talk about the time you slipped off the bench during a competition, but jumped right back without losing a beat (and what you learned from that experience.)

The ‘ What’s Your Major?’ Supplemental Essay Prompt: cannot just tell them you wish to study marine biology because you love dolphins and generally are worried about global warming. Describe the time during your summer job at the community pool where you practiced holding your breath so you could earn your deep sea diving certificate and someday work for Green Peace.

I bet you have even better real-life example and moments than those I shared here. And remember, be on alert for ways you can re-use these ‘times’ and details to answer different prompts.

You are surprised how this overwhelming task can be contained using this type of brainstorming for specific moments and experiences.

Not only will you can get your arms around these annoying little supplemental essays, you will nail them!

Just give it a try.

All the best!

However confused? That’s ok. Just let me know you questions into the comments. ( There are NO dumb questions!)

Here’s another post on the best way to Write Short Essays that you might find helpful as well!