Are you a high-school student in the midst of college applications? If so, you may be writing about yourself for the first time. For many teens, this can feel contrived and awkward, but it’s also an incredibly important skill that will serve you for the rest of your life. Whether you’re applying to college, seeking grants and scholarships or simply creating a resume, being able to skillfully write about yourself will open a lot of doors.
What we’ll cover
- The art to the start
- Quantity over quality (at first)
- Details, details, details
- Tell a unique story
The art to the start
Ask any professional writer what their secret is and odds are they’ll give you the same irritatingly simple advice: “just write.” Easier said than done, we know. Getting started with writing is like getting out of a nice, warm bed and leaping into the great unknown. It’s a shock to the system, but it can also be a great adventure.
So, rule number one: don’t procrastinate. You’re never going to feel ready, so just start and have faith that you’ll figure it out. Because you will. Keep in mind that what you write doesn’t have to be perfect and you’ll have plenty of time to sift through your output and use what works.
Journaling is a great way to hone your voice. And remember — you don’t have to share your work with anyone if you don’t want to. Pick a topic (any topic!): It could be a favorite childhood memory or something you’re grateful for or even just vent about concert ticket fees or people who don’t use turn signals. Just put pen to paper and get your thoughts out.
Quantity over quality (at first)
The more often you write, the quicker you’ll find your unique voice. You don’t need to have your college application in mind with every single thing you write. Write a letter or an email to a friend or relative. Privately journal about the highs and lows of your week. Take a walk to your favorite park and jot down whatever comes to mind.
What comes out might not be the most refined, but it’s still practice, and it will still help you hone your voice (as for editing, that comes later). The more you write, the more likely you’ll write something really great.
Details, details, details
When writing about yourself, don’t skimp on the details. What you choose to include will give your audience a sense of who you are.
Saying that your grandfather is one of your biggest heroes in life is great. The paragraph below is better because it shows rather than tells:
For as long as I can remember, my grandpa has been a huge influence in my life. His accomplishments number in the thousands: World War II veteran, medical doctor at the age of twenty-six, married for over 60 years, to name a few. While I admire him for all of those things, what really makes my grandpa the person I look up to the most in life is the way he has always shown up in my life. Picking me up from school, encouraging me in my pursuits, whether they were academic or extracurricular, and instilling in me the values of hard-work and kindness.
Good writing has details. Giving specifics adds context to the narrative and will make your writing more colorful. Don’t just say your grandpa is your biggest hero; show the reader why.
And that brings us to our final point.
Tell a unique story
The people who’ll read your application are going to read essays from tens or even hundreds of thousands of other applicants. How are you going to stand out from the crowd?
One of the best ways is by telling a story only you can tell. You might write about a time in your life in which you personally struggled, what you needed to overcome, and what you discovered about yourself in the process. Or, you could talk about trying a new sport and having to overcome the learning curve that the rest of your friends and peers were already well beyond.
Being vulnerable isn’t easy, but it makes for compelling reading. Let your reader in with a story and let your personality come through. This is your story: own it, rough patches and all.
The more you write about yourself, the less awkward it’s going to feel. Use these tips to get the ball rolling and the task will become a lot less daunting. Now, back to tip #1, start writing!
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