It is a truth universally acknowledged by college admission officers—a truly great essay can only be written from the vantage point one has after summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. NOT!

There’s a myth that in order to write a noteworthy essay, students must spend their summers engaged in research at elite universities, or traveling to exotic locations, or doing something otherwise completely extraordinary. But, as it turns out, that’s simply not true.

Most students who are admitted to their dream schools spend their summers in fairly ordinary ways. They volunteer at local animal shelters, babysit siblings and neighbors, and read books from the library. These seemingly mundane experiences can actually turn out to be the makings of an incredible essay, because the truth is, the college essay is really about the most interesting topic you can write about: you! Colleges want to know what you think, where you’ve been, who you want to become. When you’re mowing lawns or negotiating peace treaties after a day camp water balloon battle, you’re learning about yourself, other people, and the world around you.

Have you ever thought about the economic and political structures of the many countries whose fruit you are now blending into one smoothie for a customer? Do you spend long bike rides contemplating how to redesign public spaces to be more engaging for the community? It’s musings like these that turn un-glamorous activities into the best kind of essay—one that captivates its readers through a student’s depth of perspective and ability to articulate ideas. 

Colleges are looking to admit students who see beyond life’s routine moments, turning the everyday into extraordinary through their unique perspectives. 

Here are a few tips on how to get started turning an ordinary summer into an exceptional essay:

1.  Try something new. Challenge yourself to master cooking, campaign for a local election, or learn a different sport. New experiences give us the opportunity to grow and learn more about ourselves.

2.  Journal at least twice per week. Did the ice cream machine explode its contents all over you right before your boss came in? You’ve mastered stringing a tennis racket in under six minutes? You discovered photographs of your great-great grandparents in the attic? Write it down!  You’ll want to remember these moments later—they can be interesting vignettes to include in an essay.

3.  Decide what you want colleges to know about you—consider picking three adjectives about yourself. How have your summer experiences shaped you into this person?

4.  Write a draft of your essay. It doesn’t have to be perfect—this is just a draft. We’ve got lots of tips for you about how to edit later. For now, it’s important to get your ideas down.

5.  Appreciate every experience to cultivate new skills, and look for opportunities to excel wherever you are. Become the most knowledgeable museum guide you can be, the most dedicated lifeguard, the most enthusiastic, adventurous, curious, patient, __________.  You fill in the blanks. (Stay tuned to this blog for more tips on how to edit!)

Whether you are tangled in dog leashes on a hot summer’s day in Columbus or snorkeling with a Sailfin Grouper in the Galapagos Islands, you have the material for a fantastic essay right before you. It’s just a matter of perspective.

About the Author:

Julia is an admissions consultant with Signet Education who previously spent six scintillating summers making cotton candy at an amusement park.