2 years ago
Admissions Advice

What does a good “tell your story” essay look like?

Listen, I’m as average as they come, but almost every single college I’m thinking about applying to wants a “what’s your story” or a “what makes you unique” essay. I literally don’t know, so what are some ways you have tackled this prompt. Anything helps, especially if you have already gotten into college or have written this type of essay. Thanks!


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Accepted Answer
2 years ago

The best way to do this in my experience is to think of something you want to emphasize in your essay, and then come up with an anecdote that provides a new angle on whatever causes you to participate in/enjoy that thing. The goal of your essays in college applications is twofold: let admissions officers get a sense of your personality, and make them want to accept you. If you can, try and identify some strong points on your application that you want to highlight, whether it's athletics, academic competitions, great grades, or volunteering. The truth is, whatever you're choosing to highlight (for most of us) is something that admissions officers have seen from other students. This isn't a bad thing, and you don't have to choose something super niche or wacky to highlight, but the "tell your story" essay provides a good platform for you to stand out, even if your chosen "highlight" is really common.

To write this essay, pick your "highlight" activity and ask yourself: why am I passionate about this? For many activities, there is an obvious answer that admissions counselors will likely assume motivates you (eg: sports help me push myself, debate helped me find my voice, drama/art/music allowed me to express myself like never before, volunteering showed me that helping others helps ME feel good, too). These aren't BAD answers, and touching on them in your essay isn't a bad idea, but see if you can find something less typical. Finding a story from your life that helps summarize a unique view you have toward your activities can help your reader feel the same way about it that you do.

A great way to start with this is to find the side of your activity that is counterintuitive to stereotypes about that essay. Maybe you appreciate the technical aspects of music as opposed to the expressive ones that are usually touched on, and could tell a story about music as something less abstract than most people would write it as. Maybe instead of finding your voice through debate, you learned to listen to and appreciate other people's arguments, even when you disagree. Especially if you've had an interest in something for a long time, you can draw parallels between how you saw that area of study at first vs how you see it now.

"Tell us your story" doesn't have to summarize your life, or even include most of the aspects of your application. You always have a word limit, so focusing on one area and putting a less-common spin on something you're passionate about will help you stand out. Especially if you already demonstrate good qualities (leadership, competitive excellence, service) through that activity, telling your story and how you fell in love with that area of interest can help paint you as a real person, and show that you didn't just get involved in activities to boost your application.

TLDR: even if you don't have uncommon life experiences or interests, you can find and write about an uncommon perspective toward something you already want to highlight and achieve the same effect.

Hope that makes sense!


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