Unlocking the College Essay: Four Creative Tips

The personal statement is an important part of your college application, and should tell the part of your story that makes you uniquely yourself. Here are some helpful tips for making your essays stand out from the crowd.


Make an “About Me Bag”

Gather items that represent important parts of your identity. Treat it like a “show and tell” about who you are as a person. Start by looking around your room or home. What items stand out to you as being significant in your life? Do any hold sentimental value, or remind you of a core memory? Spend some time thinking about what items should go in your About Me bag, and how your memories surrounding each item make you feel. These experiences might be important to your story and help inspire your college essays.

Some ideas for items to put in your bag include:

  • Childhood toys or mementos
  • A favorite accessory or piece of clothing
  • Family recipes
  • Sports equipment or trophies
  • Pictures of friends, family, and pets
  • Books, video games, or movie cases

After you have compiled your bag, pull out each item and write about why it’s significant to you. It might also be helpful to start by presenting your bag to a friend or family member as if you are telling the story of your life through the items in the bag.


Write a Letter to Your Future Roommate

In years past, Stanford University has included a “Letter to Your Future Roommate” essay prompt in their application. Even if the school you’re applying to doesn’t require such an essay, using this prompt as an exercise might help you discover unique parts of yourself that could be valuable to include in your college essays. Start by making a list of specific quirks or personality traits you have. What are some rules you personally always abide by? Don’t be afraid to add lots of personality and humor.

This blog post has some helpful examples if you need inspiration.


Create Your Resume

A resume is a helpful tool for others to see your experiences, accomplishments, and achievements, but it can also serve as a great starting point for translating those assets into a college essay. Start by gathering all the relevant information, including how to contact you, your educational history, and any employment, volunteer, or internship experience you may have. This blog post from Indeed has many free resources that make writing a high-quality resume a breeze.

Once your resume is done, grab a highlighter and mark anything significant that you might want to include in your college essays. Are there any important experiences that the resume writing process prompted you to recall? Does the general look and design of your resume reveal something important about you? Practice translating those personal details and experiences into your college essays. And remember, the essay is a place to highlight assets that you might not be able to articulate in other parts of your application.


Look At College Websites for Ideas

Most colleges post sample essays and prompts online. Make your own college list (here are some of our most helpful tips!), and check their sites for samples. Then look at some other well-known college websites, even if you don’t plan to apply there.

The University of Chicago famously picks an imaginative topic each year. See some historical prompts here. Tufts also provides great examples on their Short Answer Questions page.


The most important thing to remember when writing your college essays is to be yourself! Lots of colleges and universities would be lucky to have you as a student, so show them what makes you unique. Best of luck in your college application process!