Sarah Lawrence College

Seniors: An Exercise to Help with Your Essays

Seniors, how go your essays? If you’re struggling a little, we have an exercise we’ve found to be particularly effective for students whether they’re just starting or working on that fourth or fifth supplement! It’s one of our favorite writing prompts and one we often use when working with students in essay workshops: making a list.


Just sit down at the computer, set a timer for 5 minutes and start writing a list beginning with the prompt:

    I'm really good at…


And to give you a better idea of how this works, we’re sharing our own lists with you.

Here is Robin Mamlet's:

    I'm really good at:

    Envisioning possibility

    Words with Friends

    Being a mom

    Making Panini

    Growing tomatoes


    Drawing out others

    Snuggling with my kids on the couch

            Learning new things


Seniors: What are colleges looking for in the essay?

As you work on finishing up your essays, don't psych yourself out by thinking the essay has to do all the heavy lifting in a college application. It is only one of many pieces. Keep in mind the two things that colleges are looking for when they read your essay:

First, can you write? Colleges want to know if your ability to write meets the academic standards of the college. They want to see that you can take a thought and develop it in a clear and organized fashion, using proper grammar. No typos, please. Your ease with language and ability to write in an engaging and thoughtful way shows them that you can express yourself effectively and that you possess the intellectual ability and readiness for college work.

Second, who are you? Admission officers want to hear your voice and know more about you when they have finished your essay than they did before they started reading it. Above all, they are trying to learn what impact you will have on their community. Will you make their school a better place simply by being a part of it -- whether that’s in the classroom, chemistry lab, a residence hall, or theater program. Colleges look for who you are in the application as a whole and the essays are one place in particular where this can be seen most clearly. So tell a story only you can tell.