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  • Kate Robertson

The Application Essay: Break it Down, Then Build it Up

If you performed the brainstorming session and have a list of possible topics, take your list of events, memorable moments and important milestones in your life and select a few favorites that you think have the most potential for an essay.


Write each potential topic across the top of a blank sheet of paper.


Break it down. For each topic, write down images, feelings and details that you associate with the topic. You may write paragraphs, a few sentences, or even just phrases or single words. Sketch a small picture, then describe your picture in a paragraph. Write as much as you can. Fill the margins. Answer questions such as, why is this important to you? What did you learn? How did you grow? What details stand out the most? Use your senses and describe aspects in terms of sight, smell, sound and touch. Perhaps create a list of verbs and then a list of adjectives associated with this topic.


Build it up. Take each sheet you just filled and use it to start organizing. Choose an opening anecdote—something that pulls the reader in. Write your thesis statement: What is your point? What did you learn? Why did you choose this topic? Next, select three or four main points to make in your paper. Think about how you might conclude. Building a rough outline to organize your thoughts and your essay.

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