Outdoor Education

The College Essay

By Tom Holland October 24, 2019

You stare at the screen. You and your parents have scribbled some thoughts on a few of the prompts, and now you need to take those scribbles and make them into a coherent essay, reflecting who you are as a person in the hopes that a school, maybe your dream school, will like it enough to offer you acceptance. Now, though, you venture off on that adventure of writing, hoping (wishing) that this process might be over and the stresses of the college application process will end. 

So, you remember your goals for your essay. You want it to be unique. You want it to sell yourself (but not too much). You want it to be reflective of you, and you want to stand out from the pack (for all the right reasons!). 

And then you remember the stats: at least 1 million students will use the Common App to apply to school next year. That is a lot of essays to read for college admissions teams.

You scroll through the rolodex of memories, challenges, apprehensions, and celebrations… but near the top of the stack sits your WA trip. So, with many of those 1 million kids writing about their camp and travel experience, how do you do it to stand out?

Well, you are not alone in your desire to write about WA. I wrote my college essay on my WA trip experience and thousands of our alumni have done the same. Does that make writing about it any less unique? Absolutely not, but below are some tips to make sure you write about your experience in the best way so as to have your essay rise to the top. 

Focus your essay on ONE aspect of your experience.

Sometimes the magnitude of a two, three, or four-week adventure can be challenging to sum up in a 2000-word essay. It is important to take this into consideration as you write. The best thing to do is to provide some “laser focus” for your trip. Was there a moment of clarity that was presented? Did one experience challenge you the most (hiking, mountaineering, climbing, service?) Maybe you want to focus on the destination: Kili, the Alps, Alaska, and Wyoming. Zoom in for the reader. Your attention to detail will stand out. 

Center on what makes your trip unique to you (hint: it is your perspective!).

While each of our trips and itineraries is unique (I mean, have you seen Craters of the Moon?!), if you just tell of the itinerary, the activities and the leaders, it will not be come off as one-of-a-kind. However, you are one-of-a-kind. Your perspective of these things are what the essay reader will focus upon.  Work on this perspective. When someone describes themselves as ‘feeling all the feels’ it does not go far enough – you must adequately define the observations you had, the feelings that drove you and the conclusions you reached. Get descriptive. This is the heart of the essay.

Remind the reader what these trips are like.

Don’t assume that the reader knows what this experience is like. You must set the stage. This will only help your cause. Make sure to point out the length of the trip, the location, the travel to get there, wildlife witnessed (did you hear the howler monkeys in Costa Rica?), the challenge of packing and traveling and doing everything yourself. Importantly, make sure to highlight that you freely gave up your electronics for the duration of the trip (this demonstrates to the reader that you have a healthy relationship with electronics and you value time away from your screen). 

Have someone proof and edit your final work.

I mean, do I even need to put this in? This is just good practice always. When applying for anything, spell check that essay and have someone else read it to make sure it makes sense!

Finally, breath easy.

You have conquered the adventure of WA, and you know you can do this. We know you can do it too. Dig deep, and remember that you have done something much wilder than this!

Good Luck. 

PS – Check back in for my next blog on the lessons of learning your fate on these colleges!