Identifying your core values is crucial when it comes to writing essays for college applications. You likely have a strong moral compass and live accordingly, and you want schools to recognize that in your writing. The first step to conveying your values in your writing is, well, identifying them yourself. Exploring the values that guide you will help you navigate life outside of academia. While you probably feel your values are well established, narrowing down what’s MOST important to you will give you perspective and a well-defined point of view.
From the list below, choose all the values that stand out to you. No need to be picky.
You should have a decent list of values. Maybe you picked 30. Maybe more. This exercise, however, is about identifying your CORE values.
So, for our next step, narrow down your list to ten total values. If you’re having a tough time, try to organize your original picks into separate lists that have some similarities, and pick the ones that stand out from each category. If you picked mindfulness, wisdom, and knowledge, you might want to pick just one of those based on which one resonates with you the most.
So pick ten.
For each of your ten values, write a couple of sentences about what that value means to you.
For example: “Empathy is the driving force behind the relationships that I hold dear in my life. It allows me to show up as a friend, a brother, and a son. It helps me cultivate lasting and meaningful relationships that feed my soul.”
The values you align with shouldn’t be too difficult to write about. Remember that your values are yours to choose, so don’t pick them based on what you think others would like to see.
Once you’ve completed this part of the exercise, you should have a clearer understanding of your core values. From your list of ten, pick five. This might be difficult, so re-read what you wrote about each one and make your decision based on that. Which ones feel the most genuine? Did you discover anything new about yourself that you hadn’t thought of before?
For these five final values, we’ll go a little deeper. Follow these prompts:
- What does this value mean to you?
- What do you feel when you think of this value?
- What benefits come of this value?
- What actions can you take to live into this value?
Here is an example: “My value is happiness. Happiness is a feeling of joy, being content, and smiling and laughing often. I think of spending time with others, I think of good times, and I think of friends and family. When I am happy, I feel good and alive. I want to strive for happiness, and I want to share happiness with the people around me. The actions that I take to maintain happiness are being with friends and family, exercising often, and laughing every day.”
When writing your admissions essays, keep your list of values handy as a reference and guide. Your ability to convey your values in your writing will help set you apart from other candidates. As you choose the topics you’ll write about, think of how your values will come through to the reader.
One last thing to keep in mind — values evolve. If you start to realize that your list needs an update, go with that feeling and complete the exercise again.
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