I’m a firm believer that the best time to work on your college application essays is the summer before senior year. But when that time comes, some juniors feel a little leery about shifting their writing style to personal narratives after spending their high school years focused on expository writing (aka thesis papers). Unlike most school assignments, your college application essays require you to tell stories about yourself.
If you want to get into a “personal narrative mindset,” you may find it helpful to do some journaling. Journaling is simply writing down your experiences, thoughts and reflections. You can spend as much or as little time as you like and you can write in whatever form you choose: by hand, on your computer, your phone, etc. It’s helpful to have a central location (whether it’s an actual journal, digital document, etc) to keep all your entries. I strongly recommend not posting your writing to social media; journaling is for you, not the rest of humanity. In addition to other benefits, journaling can be an awesome stress reliever.
If you’d like to practice some narrative writing/journaling, but are having trouble getting started, here are some sample prompts that might help. No matter your topic, try to incorporate sensory (what did things look, sound, smell, taste & feel like) and other descriptive details to tell a story.
· Use all five senses to describe a favorite person, place or thing. Why is this person/place/thing so special? Has it always been this way or has anything changed over time?
· Use all five senses to describe your room. Do you share it with anyone? What objects are in your room and why are they important to you? If you could change something about your room, what would it be and why?
· What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten and why? How is your behavior and/or mentality different since receiving the advice?
· What is your “role” in your family? Is your “title” accurate? Why or why not?
· Of all the people you know, who is the person most opposite from you? How so? Include descriptive details of you both. Is there any quality about the other person you wish you possessed?
· Describe a wound (physical or psychological) you received. Describe how this injury impacted the rest of you and how focusing on the sore occupied your attention.
· Tell a story of going shopping (by yourself or with someone else). Describe the variety of stores and/or purchases available to you. If there was something you wanted and couldn’t attain, what was it and why?
· Describe receiving a gift you really wanted. What changed after you had it?
· Describe a move – home, school, etc. How did you feel about moving? What was different once you’d changed locations?
· Google something you’ve always been curious about but never had the time to investigate. Record your initial questions, what you learned and how this new information has impacted your thinking.
Many of the above prompts have been borrowed from or inspired by “Branches,” a book of prompts by Nancy Beckett & Molly Connolly.1