Brainstorming Essay, Research Paper

First please complete our Brainstorming Worksheet. The worksheet is a .PDF file and requires the free Adobe Acrobat viewer.

After Completing the Worksheet…

You should now have between 25 and 75 potential essay topics. The next step is to narrow this list down to the topics that are most suited to an admissions essay. For each item listed above, answer the following questions. Some of your ideas may reveal themselves as dull, while you will find plenty to discuss for others.

For each of the personal characteristics or skills you have listed, ask:

Does it distinguish me from others I know?

How did I develop this attribute?

For each of the activities you have listed, ask:

What made me join this activity?

What made me continue to contribute to it?

For each event in your life you have listed, ask:

Why do I remember this particular event?

Did it change me as a person?

How did I react?

Was the event a moment of epiphany, as if my eyes saw something to which they had previously been blind?

For each person you have listed, ask:

Why have I named this person?

Do I aspire to become like this person?

Which of this person?s traits do I admire?

Do I aspire to become like this person?

Which of this person?s traits do I admire?

Is there something that this person has said that I will always remember?

Did he or she challenge my views?

For each of your favorites and least favorites, ask:

Why is this a favorite or least favorite?

Has this thing influenced my life in a meaningful way?

For each failure, ask:

What if anything did I learn from this failure?

What if anything good came out of this failure?

In answering these questions, you will probably find that you have a great deal to talk about, at least for five to seven topics. You must now confront the underlying problem of the admissions essay: find the one topic that will allow you to synthesize your important personal characteristics and experiences into a coherent whole while simultaneously addressing your desire to attend a specific institution. While most admissions essays allow great latitude in topic selection, you must also be sure to answer the questions that were asked of you. Leaving a lasting impression on someone who reads 50 to 100 essays a day will not be easy, but we have compiled some guidelines to help you get started.

From ESSAYS THAT WILL GET YOU INTO COLLEGE, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan.

Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.

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