Philadelphia, PA, USA

Crafting an Unforgettable College Essay

my picture and quote framed by staff from Penn State Abington and marketed around campus leading up to my graduation

I remember chatting with one of the staff members of Penn State Abington during my orientation. Somehow I got onto the topic that I took a 5-year gap year to work and travel because I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do for the rest of my life when I was 18 years old. And I remember so vividly, when the staff member exclaimed, "I remember your college essay! You're that girl!"

It took me aback because I thought college essays were bogus before this. Didn't think they'd read it, let alone glance at it, but they did, passed it around, and remembered me by it. How many of you can say you had that experience? And if you want that experience, keep on reading, this is all about crafting an unforgettable college essay.

(✿´꒳`)ノ°

We used to do college essay writing workshops in my junior and senior year of high school, and they'd tell us to write about the same old boring things. What we wanted to do in 5 years or 10 years, and honestly, what 17-18 year old really knows that? 

Honestly, it is such a bullshit topic. In 5 years you'd be 23, and in 10 years you'd be my age, 28. If I read some bullshit ass essay about where these young adults thought they wanted to be, I'd snore. You're going to change your mind. It's normal. You're going to second guess your plan, your major, everything, and even if you follow through with it there's nothing out there that says you need to get a job in that field or stay in that field for the rest of your life. Humans are like onions, we have layers to us. 

So you may be wondering, "What do people want to read about? What did you write Diana?" Oh thank you, I'm glad you asked. But before we go there, there’s something you have to remember first!

When writing anything, a speech, a blog post, an essay, whatever it is, the reader is looking for what the problem is and what the solution is. People don’t become successful in blogging by niching down, they become successful by giving you a solution to a problem you have. The same model is done for just about every piece of writing that is out there. A person wants to know what the latest news is, so when a reporter reports on it they talk about what happened and then what’s being done about it if anything. Same with an essay, therefore going forward let’s talk about your problem. What do people want to read about? 

What do people want to read about

1. Write about a moment in your life that changed you or impacted you greatly as a person.

  • What does success mean to you? 
  • Were you kidnapped as a child? 
  • Did you travel out of the country on your own? 
  • Did you do a summer trip with peers your age to a foreign country? 
  • Did you create a webcomic or an art piece that was received very well? 
  • Did someone hurt you in such a way that you’re grateful for that experience because it propelled you to become a better person? 
  • Have you ever gone to a cultural fair or event that was outside of your own culture, and it impacted you in some way? 
  • Did you take a gap year? 
  • Did you do a trade skill during high school that impacted you for the better?

These are all sample questions you could use to form your essay under this topic. By all means, you can use one of the ones I have, or use your own. But this topic really centers around a moment or moments that changed your life. The moments should be similar to each other. You don’t want something that is completely different from what you're actually speaking about.

2. Be honest if you are going to write about a topic 5 or 10 years from now.

For example, you could say something like, 

I’m not exactly sure where I’ll be, but I know the person I am. With that being said, I want to…

  • help people because a teacher significantly impacted my life when I was a student. 
  • travel for a year after graduation before starting my career. This is because I want to experience different cultures, foreign living, and culture shock before I focus solely all my time on my career. I think this will benefit me on a personal and professional level because ...

Again you have to be honest with this topic. It is a generic topic, so a lot of people are going to be doing it, and the majority of people reading won’t bash too much of an eyelid. 

If you really are focused and dedicated to this one career for the rest of your life, talk about why what made you focused. Talk about how you focus when things are crashing down around you. How you pull yourself out of a rut to get back to your grit. What do you think you can do after you finish college in this career field that will be of help, be realistic. 

When I say realistic, I’m not saying that you’re going to find the cure to cancer. Instead, talk about theories that you may have that could help with your research. Maybe read some scholarly articles and quote them, talk about them, etc. If you use scholarly articles, make sure they’re not older than 5 years of your present date. Honestly, if I saw someone use scholarly articles in their essay I’d be like holy cow! This is amazing!

3. Do you have a passion project? If not, it’s not too late to get one.

Ideas of a passion project: 

  • A blog
  • A youtube channel
  • A TikTok account that you grew a substantial audience on
  • Are you learning a second or third language, what are the struggles, what are the benefits, what was the problem you overcame
  • Do you make your own clothes
  • Do you own an Etsy store
  • Do you travel often

Here are some helpful resources to help you find a passion project or realize that you have one. 

From there you can really talk about anything. For example, how you were lost in life until you found this one thing. Why it’s your passion project. What it means to you. The possibilities are endless, just feel it and go with the flow.

4. What are you passionate about or interested in? Let’s get real and honest here. 

Are you interested in learning Japanese, Korean? Are you into Japanese domestic cars or climate change? 

Your interests can be just about anything. It shouldn't be something basic like, “volunteering, playing the cello/violin” etc. You should think of it as, “What makes me, me?” “What sets me apart from everyone else?" If it is music, volunteering, etc. go into detail about why? Is that how you would want to spend your free time? Why would you want to spend your free time playing the violin or volunteering? What makes it tick for you? Why is it your passion?

What I wrote about that made my college essay unforgettable

In the previous section, we talked about possible topics you can talk about in your college essay. For mine, personally, I chose topic number 1 as my essay choice. To refresh your thoughts on what this topic was about, it’s about a moment in your life that changed you or impacted you greatly as a person.

Introduction

If you don’t know this by now before I entered college and worked diligently at it, I was a college dropout and I went from taking 1 gap year to taking 5 gap years. Easily, I have enough substance to write about because this one choice in my life impacted me greatly. It’s still something I talk about, write about, and believe in because it helped develop me as a person. Instead of starting my college essay by jumping into talking about my gap years and my decision, I, instead, wrote about what success means to me as a person.

“When people think about success they usually think about getting a car, getting into college, then graduation, followed by securing a career, family, and a house, but to me, success means something else. Success to me means knowing who you are, what you want, and a general idea of where you want to end up. Even if it’s not exact, knowing these things helps propel you forward through any obstacle.”

reminder quote graphic on success

The Problem

The next paragraph is the body of the paragraph, it really should talk about the problem. My problem was I was a junior in high school and already knew I wanted to take a gap year. It was unheard of and absolutely not allowed. They couldn’t wrap their minds around it. 

Each high school guidance counselor appointment since my first initial one, they had me come in with a plan for school even after telling them I had no desire to do more school after high school. But because they didn’t allow that and I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, I talked about some crazy options. 

For example, 

  • I found that I could study abroad in South Korea, so I proposed that as a plan. 
  • I proposed doing my college degree in Poland. This because as a dual citizen, and it would be free for me to go. 

Honestly, no matter what I said, even if it was something generic, “Fine I’ll take the SATs.” They never believed me, they wanted me to do things the clear cut check off the societal norms checklist type of way, and I wasn’t for it. 

So that was the start of my problem, but I then moved into talking about how I was thrust into a bartending school by my mom right after high school graduation. What high school student wants to be thrust into more school without a break? And then once more after bartending school, I was thrust into Community College of Philadelphia against my will. 

Which led to talking about how I stayed there for a year, but only took classes I thought I would be interested in. For example, I took a class in Music Engineering and Japanese language courses. I refused to take any pre-reqs because again I didn’t want to be learning the traditional way. What I wanted to do was enjoy learning and relax because I was so exhausted and burnt out from traditional education. 

Unfortunately, that never worked out that way. I was eventually forced to take pre-reqs and that same day I took leave from the school. Furthermore, I decided to work, travel, and have fun with my life. Experience. That one year gap year fell between this time period and the next one.

Eventually, I did try to do Community College again, but what happened was they made up all these bogus rules that completely blocked me and so many others from taking classes. All the yet, my mom was screaming at me to go to school but didn’t understand the hardships or how impossible the school made it for me. I was just another number to them and they didn’t care. She couldn’t understand this because college is law for an immigrant parent that didn’t have that luxury. Therefore, she was unable to comprehend the situation I was in. As much as I wanted to go and try school again, I couldn’t, and I refused to just try anywhere else because it would have been too expensive if I ended up changing my mind about it again. This indeed was the right call for me at the time, because I changed my course of what I thought I wanted to do. The second time around I thought of going into journalism, but I learned going to school for journalism is pointless. So instead, I went back to working, traveling, and having fun. 

When I talked about traveling, in my essay, I mentioned I’ve traveled on my own outside of the country since I was 16. For experiences I talked about self-teaching myself Japanese, focusing on personal development, communication, and free clubs around the Philadelphia area that anyone can join and be a part of. 

The Solution

The body should take up a good chunk of your essay. Be as descriptive as possible. If you read through mine, I had a lot happen to me within 5 years. Lastly, your conclusion will help bring forth the solution to your problem. How did you solve it? Are you still solving it? Etc.

In my case, through experience and living my life, having to deal with obstacles and trials on my own from the road not taken, I was able to grow as a person. I was able to figure out what my values were, what I wanted, what I liked, and disliked, who I was, etc.  Through this, I found my own meaning to success and had a general idea of who I wanted to become. 

I trusted myself, became sure of myself and my decisions, and through that, I knew then it was the perfect time to reapply as a student and for a 4-year college because I knew who I wanted to be couldn’t be achieved without a degree. Furthermore, I knew I was a people person, and I wanted to work with other people. 

When I went on a tour of Penn State Abington before applying, I had the best tour ever. It was one-on-one because no one else showed up, and I really felt like, “This place is going to be the next chapter of my life.” Something about it felt so warm welcoming and like home. I learned through that tour that the degree for me was Corporate Communication and that I could minor if I wish to also. 

So when people finally got to the end of my essay they were like, “Wow this girl has a good head on her shoulders. She’s mature, she knows what she wants, she’s not going to make problems instead she’ll find solutions to her obstacles.” And how do I know that’s what they thought because they literally told me!

reminder quote on success graphic

To Wrap it Up!

Let’s get into some final tips to wrap things up! 

1. Download the free web browser extension Grammarly. 

It will help you in seeing your own grammar mistakes or suggest commas in places you may have not thought of. Even, I don't get things perfect the first time around. Ever since I started using Grammarly, it’s helped me out in ways Google Docs can’t.

2. Have someone proofread your work. 

They should be checking for grammar or misspelled words. I always get one of my friends, sisters, or someone to proofread any of my essays for me. What I miss, Grammarly misses, someone else may see. It’s always good to have multiple sets of eyes on whatever you write.

3. Ask for feedback. 

See where they think you can improve. Ask them if it’s interesting if it made them want to read more, if it’s boring, etc.

4. Ask them if it sounded personal and that they got to see another side of you.

It really needs to hit home with this one, this is about you. This is your essay to help you stand out amongst everyone else that’s applying. What makes you, YOU?! Think about that. 

5. Can the person proofreading identify the problem and the solution clearly?

If the reader is not sure what the problem and solution is, then I have some homework for you to do. Don't worry it's easy, or as easy as you make it seem. 

Take a scrap piece of paper and fold it in half. Unfold it and on one side write Problem, and on the other write Solution. 

Brain dump your problem that you're talking about or trying to convey in your essay, in the problem section with any additional details you have about it. 

Do the same with the solution, as above, even if your solution isn’t complete yet. Maybe you’re still trying to solve it or you’re in the process, that’s okay, include that too. 

Make sure to see a pattern, does your problem and solution fit with your introduction? What was the question or theory you had in your introduction? For example, if you read mine it was about what success means to me as a person. So all my experiences, problems, obstacles really got the ball rolling for a solution. It was a mindset over matter type solution. But it made sense, and the reader could easily distinguish the problem from the solution.


I hope this helps you narrow down your college essay and write an unforgettable piece! It really meant a lot to me when someone actually remembered who I was just by what I wrote. Luckily, it stuck and it helped me with many more obstacles during my college career. Having that type of connection is truly meaningful because it led me to many more similar connections that were just as meaningful.

Without further ado, it's time for the question of the day!

Question of the Day

Let me know in the comments below which approach will you take for your college essay? Or if you’re done school, do you remember your college essay? What did you write about? 

pinterest pin crafting an unforgettable essay

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