Opening College Doors with the Power of Story

By College Counseling

“Once Upon a Time”, “In a Galaxy Far, Far Away”, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”:

Had your brain been monitored during the processing of these words, it would have lit up with blood flow.  Science teaches us that our brains are hardwired to love stories.  And a great story can release a rush of chemicals that makes us pay attention and feel a connection to the storyteller.  This biological effect can be applied to the drafting of a college essay that promotes your cause for admission.

Contrary to the belief of most teenagers, they have interesting stories to share.  During their short lifetimes, they have experienced events that can inform, enlighten, and inspire their audiences. These events are hardly ever earth-shattering or record-breaking.  Most are common everyday occurrences.  What makes these moments interesting is how they are observed and expressed.

What makes writers interesting is how they view these seemingly insignificant events and what meanings they extract from them.  Good storytellers are not those who enjoy more interesting lives but are those that understand that significance can be found and communicated from most experiences.  Our human nature gives us the license to communicate with our readers.  However, we must earn positive connections with tools of communication.

Without exception, college bound students that I have worked with along the Connecticut Shoreline write and submit an extraordinary application essay.  Interestingly, as different as the essays are in the end as each evolves, the first drafts start in similar ways.  Typically, students write in a voice that they think they should, which can either take the tone of a pseudo-intellectual or a tour guide.

One student from Clinton, Connecticut was fascinated with the use of a metaphor to describe his upbringing.  Unfortunately, the metaphor was lacking in depth and failed to convey the writer’s point about his youthful enthusiasm and newfound passion.  By discussing what about his challenges and triumphs defined him, he was able to expand the metaphor, use it as a launching point for his multi-faceted personality, and create an imagery that painted an unforgettable picture for the reader.  The metaphor, instead of a singular device, was immersed into his story that made his essay unique and personal.

A senior from Madison, Connecticut was applying to colleges offering majors in Theater.  Her first instinct was to craft an essay describing her creative assignments and performances.  Her draft had the unoriginal text of a course catalog, with no personal perspective.  Once she abandoned her preconceived notions, she told the story of her stage fright and her resolution to change her focus to the creative process instead of focusing only on herself.  Stories help us organize our ideas to make powerful points.  Creating an essay that conveys a true sense of self and your view of the world is a powerful tool and a worthwhile goal.