Intensive classes on Ivy campuses. Adventure camps in Alaska. Leadership conferences in DC. Internships in NY. Trips to Italy, or Vietnam, or Kenya. In contrast to the often humdrum daily routines that define high school, these are the summer experiences that memories (and applications) are made of.
But many applicants forget that an experience isn’t enough – they need to tell a STORY to become compelling, and it needs to be personal. Something as intense as a harrowing escape from a Saharan sandstorm will still be dull without emotions, details, and reflection. So here are a few tips on how to make the most of your summers on paper:
1. Recapture the Magic
Everyone’s had that feeling – they go off on some awesome trip and then can’t describe it when they come home. Even though the trip was transcendental – even though it made them feel stronger and smaller and more connected to the world all at the same time; even though they learned how to play the pan flute from Peruvian children and ate goat they roasted themselves and put their hands on carvings that had been shaped by other human hands thousands of years ago, when people ask, “How was your trip?” the only description that comes to mind is…well… “awesome.” (The same word they use to describe taco salad day at school, or finding a dime on the ground.)
For your college essays, that won’t even pretend to cut it. You have to dig deep – really deep – to find ways to SHOW your summer experience to people who weren’t there. It doesn’t matter if it was “amazing” or you “made lifelong friends” (who can tell that anyway?); it’s not good enough that it was “one of the best experiences of your life.” If you can’t take your readers into a moment or an idea and make us FEEL it like you felt it, we’ll never understand WHY it was so amazing… and your essay will fall flat.
2. The Delivery is in the Details
On that note, details and specifics will be your best friend when writing about your experiences. Let’s take that leadership conference in DC that we mentioned – the one where “we even spent three days volunteering in the city. Helping people better their lives with my peers was one of the deepest satisfactions I have ever known.” That won’t fly. And why not? Because all your peers are applying to college too, as are all the other leaders from all the other conferences out there. And when admissions officers think back to all those essays they read about leadership training in DC, yours will just be a drop in the ocean. If you want to be more than that, you have to fill your essays with details that will stick in the brain… “We even spent three days repairing dilapidated housing in the city. I listened to my peers sawing, drilling, and sanding all around me, and couldn’t help but feel an intense satisfaction every time my hammer hit a nail – driving each house a little closer to being a home.” little closer to being a home.” THAT kid, we remember… so make sure that kid is you!
If you want your essay to really work, paint your readers a vivid picture of your summer that they can marvel at – whether because it’s shocking or shattering or inspiring or joyful. Just don’t forget to make it a self-portrait!
By Katherine Kendig, Admissionado Senior Consultant