An exercise to prepare you for writing the college essay

Are you a rising high school senior contemplating what to write for your college application essay? In the five years that I’ve been teaching my “Brainstorm your college essay” workshop, I’ve found that asking my students to do short writing exercises helps them think more deeply and creatively.

Most likely, no one knows you better than your family members. I recommend you interview them as though you are doing research.

Here’s an exercise that might help you look at your life from other people’s points of view.

Write down a list of questions about yourself that are individually targeted for your siblings, your mom, your dad, and even your grandparents.

When you conduct the interviews, do them individually in a quiet area of your home.

Ask your brother or sister such things as:

  1. What do you think I do best?
  2. What’s the personality trait you like best/least about me? (No one will be more brutally honest than your brother or sister.)
  3. How are we most alike? How are we different?

Ask your father such things as:

  1. When you think about my future, what do you imagine me doing?
  2. Was there a moment in your mind when I went from being a baby to a person? (Ask him to describe it.)
  3. If you could choose the perfect sport for me to play what would it be?

Ask your mom such things as:

  1. What was it like the first time you held me after I was born?
  2. Do you have a favorite picture of me? (Ask her to show it to you and ask her why it’s her favorite photo of you.)
  3. When you imagine me grown up, what kind of job do you see me doing?

These questions are just to get you started. You may come up with much better ones. But before you start your interviews, write down your questions so you’re prepared and be sure to take careful notes. How your family members perceive you could help you understand yourself better.

As you approach your essay you may be feeling stuck for ideas and you may even believe that there’s nothing about your life that’s compelling or even interesting. I guarantee you there is. Given enough time and access, I could probably write a riveting profile of anyone who walks this earth because everyone is fascinating in unique ways. Try it yourself, by interviewing a close friend or relative and getting inside his thoughts.

Your assignment is to give yourself permission to move inside your own thoughts. Find your own truth and allow yourself to review your memories. Brainstorming is a powerful and satisfying process.

If you choose to take my three-hour workshop, the above exercise will help you prepare and make your workshop experience more fruitful.

If you’re interested in knowing when my next workshop will be held and the cost to attend, email me at