Writing college application essays can be grueling because you're trying to figure out the words that best describe who you are and formulating the most succinct and compelling way to get your message across. Brainstorming can be the hardest part: it can send you into an existential crisis where you’re stuck wondering who you actually are, what you’re passionate about, and what you want to do with your life.
The whole process can be daunting, especially when you set yourself up to apply to multiple different colleges that all want to know something different about you: what are your moral values? What is an experience that changed your outlook on life? What aspects of your upbringing made you who you are today?
Believe it or not, this list of daunting college essay questions are all asking the same thing: who are you? No matter how colleges word their questions, or what subject matter they want you to focus on, they all strive towards the same goal of figuring out the ideas, the dreams, the experiences, and the thought processes that make up who you are. All of these questions help universities paint a picture of how you relate to the world around you, what difference you want to make, and how you react to situations thrown your way: they aim to uncover your emotional responses, your desires, and your values altogether.
With that in mind, perhaps it can become a bit easier to change your outlook on college essay questions. As weird as it may sound, you can use different college essay questions as practice for the universities that you actually want to apply to. Whether you’ve generated a list of 20 different universities or only a few, checking out the wording and subject matter of other questions can help you form somewhat of a profile for yourself: you can use other questions as exercises to parse out the details about yourself that you may not even know. That way, you start to write down and think about the way you perceive yourself, and you can piece together the puzzle that is your own personality:
No matter what your choice university asks, going through essay application questions like these can help you brainstorm words that encapsulate the ideas that matter most to you: what drives you, and what impact are you passionate about making in the world? What traits do you value most in others, and what are some concrete examples (in any form of media) that represent the opinions/thoughts that you stand by? What kinds of tangible ways have you gotten involved, and how does that represent the person you are, or the person you want to become?
As intimidating as they may look, the hundreds of college essay applications that you may come across for different universities can be used as brainstorming exercises: write lists for each one that you come across, answering them honestly and clearly as if no one were going to read your response. Once you have this sort of “catalogue” of your own thoughts and responses, you can start to learn about yourself all over again: reviewing your answers as if it were a novel, or a key insight into what makes you who you are. With that basis, it becomes easier to start writing more broad essay questions that get at the core of what has made you who you are today. By that point, you have key description words, tangible examples, experiential stories, and anecdotal arguments that can be worked in to paint an engaging, dynamic story that touches on all aspects of who you are.
Sarah is a Consultant on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the Class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language & Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.