Polishing Up the Boring Personal Essay: Can You Be Epic?


Polishing Up the Boring Personal Essay: Can You Be Epic?

How epic are you?


If they were to make a movie based on your life, would people stay and watch until the very end or would they leave after they've wolfed down a tub of popcorn? Would they laugh, cry, or be at the edge of their seats from the fascinating story that is unfolding before them?

Some of you may have no problem seeing your story told in a way that would captivate an audience. Yet, for those of you who think people wouldn't even show up for the premier or that you don't even have content to create a movie, here are a few questions to reflect on:

  • Can you remember at least one moment in your life that changed how you viewed yourself, others, or the world?

  • Have you ever helped a friend, family member, or even a stranger in some way? It doesn't need to be a dramatic event. It may simply be carrying a bag of groceries to the car, watering a neighbor's garden when she was on vacation, or helping a classmate or sibling with a math problem.

  • Throughout your lifetime, has someone ever helped you with a situation, assignment, or other type of issue you've faced?

It's highly unlikely that you've answered "No" to all three of the above questions. The point here is that we've all had experiences that we can reflect on and tap into as topics for writing tasks, which means that everyone has the chance to be epic!

That being said, let's delve into the next point: sharing your story in writing. What approach do you take when writing a personal essay? Are you coming off the page and engaging the reader or are you leaving it up to chance?

Writing about oneself may be difficult at best, yet it is often personal essays and personal statements that get college applicants through the rounds of application reviews. Why would an admissions officer choose to place your application in the "Yes" stack or to interview you over the hundreds, if not thousands, of other candidates?

You don't need to fight monsters or wear a cape to be epic

A good personal essay is a story that uses emotions, visuals, and unique insights to draw a reader in. When writing, your job is to give an admissions officer a glimpse of your true personality. An example of this might be how you handled a difficult situation with a friend, family member, teacher, or coach. What was the result? Was your character tested? If so, how? When you walked away from the situation, were you a better person? As you can see, you don't need to jump from a moving train or leap off a tall building to be larger-than-life. Just being yourself is epic enough!

Here are the steps to help map out your epic story:

  • Create a list: Write down a number of achievements, personal situations that have had an impact on you, or obstacles you've conquered. The goal is to develop as many topics as possible to give yourself an excess of ideas to choose from. The more options you have, the better the chances you will find something that you resonate with and can write about.

  • Decide on a topic: Obvious, I know, but you do not want to decide on just anything. It has to be a topic that you can infuse with emotional punch. In other words, you should be able to feel at least some aspects of the experience in your gut. When emotions are driving the story, you'll find that writing an epic story about yourself is easier than you think.

  • Start writing: Once a decision has been made on a topic, start writing--don't overthink it. Just keep going until you have material to work with. It is common for people to just stare at a blank page and not know where to begin. This could lead to the loss of the emotional drive that was mentioned earlier. Good or bad, get the words moving and see where they lead you.

The spices that add punch to your epic story:

  • Visuals: Pull the admissions officer into your story with visuals. Don't just tell what happened, show.

  • Positive outcome: Reveal your outcome in a way that the reader can emotionally connect with and that shows your growth from the experience. You want them to feel as though they were there with you when you conquered the obstacle or when you won the award.

  • Value: What was the desired result? What lesson did you learn or experience did you have that helped develop your character, knowledge, and/or skills? Show the value that was discovered and how it may benefit the university you are applying to and its campus community.

Still not sure?

If you're still uncomfortable with writing a story about yourself that exemplifies who you are, then here are a few "Why not?" questions that you may need to address before writing your essay:

  • Why not show how amazing you are?

  • Why not tell the story of how you overcame the numerous odds that made you who you are today?

  • Why not express the emotions you went through when achieving that goal of a lifetime?

Remember: You’re the Hero

Everyone comes from different backgrounds and has different beliefs about themselves. No matter your past, it's important to remember that you are important, valued, and unique. You are the hero in your own personal story and admissions officers want to know this story. Don't just write a typical essay, write one that shows how epic you are!

A final word…

If you've worked through this post and still feel that your story is not coming across as intended, contact us with your questions. Click here to go to the contact page and let's get your essay into epic shape!

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