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Storytelling: The Secret to Writing Great College Essays

by Jocelyn Johnson, on Jul 7, 2015 12:44:00 PM

What’s the secret to writing great college essays? The answer might surprise you, and no, it’s actually not perfect grammar (although that is certainly important). It’s storytelling. There is a Native American proverb that goes, “Those who tell the stories rule the world.” But, what makes stories so powerful?

Stories incite a chemical reaction in the brain.  Neuroscience shows us that when you tell, read, or listen to a story, it ignites a process called Mental Mirroring and 3 things happen:

  1. Your story will spark the listener’s memories.

  2. Those memories will activate the associated emotions, allowing the listener to experience the moment with you.

  3. Those emotions connect you to the listener, and prime them to take action on your behalf.

Mental mirroring only happens when you put the reader in the moment with you, and allow them to experience it from your perspective through details, dialogue, and description.  When you use interpretations, generalizations, cliches, or summaries, the process of mental mirroring breaks down.

Yet, when it comes to filling college admission essays, why is our first instinct to completely ignore storytelling?

Storytelling skills are like muscles: everybody has them, but if you don’t exercise them through practice, they atrophy. When we are young, our storytelling skills are strong, because we are taught to communicate through stories. But as we grow older, our innate storytelling capacity weakens as we develop our analytical and critical thinking skills.

So, as you are preparing to write your college essay, keep in mind that when you reveal who you are through a story, you will be able to establish an authentic connection with admissions officers.

That authentic connection will distinguish you from the vast pool of applicants who have similar grades and test scores. Telling your story effectively can be the difference between “we’ve got to have this student” and “this student could be a good fit here.” Start exercising your storytelling muscles now, and you’ll be in great shape when it comes to writing your college essay!

Topics:college admission