Personal Branding - How to Tell Your Story in College Admissions Essays

As you may know, Greatest Story offers storytelling and design are weddings, events, and business. I also create art, design, and writing services for everyday (like some of custom gifts that I've featured recently on the blog.)

In addition to these things, I also love mentoring and personal branding. I feel it's especially important when it comes to some of the most important times in life we tell our story outside of celebrations and running a business. For example, I love helping people tell their story when they're looking for a job (how do you tell your story in a cover letter or a resume).

And I really love to help students figure out how to tell their story when they apply to college or professional school.

Usually, my work takes the form of a polish of existing essays written by the student and aided by an ongoing conversation with them about who they are. In my experience, so many of us have something special to tell, we just don't know where to start. I love taking something like that and mixing up the pieces to make it all work together and really tell the story that was in that person all along. 

Amy, one of my clients for professional school applications, shares more about the process:

"I had been working on my graduate school application essays for weeks when I met Annie. They had to be perfect and they had to say everything that I wanted them to say in 250 words or less. I had decided it was an impossible task. I hesitated at sending Annie my paragraphs... But I'm so glad that I did because what she returned to me was a genius rearrangement and take on all of the important information that I was trying to get across.

They were all my words and thoughts but it was as if she had taken my scattered thoughts, folded them up, placed them in a box, and tied it with a pretty bow. The essays were perfection and they were within my word limit!"

With word limits, strange prompts and more, I'd like to share my top three tips for how to tell your story in a college or professional school application essay.

1. Make a list of your top 10 favorite memories/stories so far in your life and use that as a springboard.

If you're a student, especially in high school, I'm betting more interesting and relevant things have already happened to you than you may realize. Jot down a list of the first things that come to mind about what or who has made an impact on you, or how you've had an impact on something or someone else. Don't write anything off (yet) for being too silly. Just make the list and then read it.

Do you see any themes emerge from the stories - people you love, things you've done, things you've learned? Jot those down. From this list, I bet you may have a great story to share or a history of things that have shaped who you are. Keep these in mind when you write your essays.


2. Write for your audience, but in an authentic way.

This is not me telling you to write what you think an admissions officer will like (as in, write something you don't really believe in but think someone else will eat up.) Instead, take a step back and put yourself in an admission's officer's shoes. Think about what they must go through and read every single day, from every single student. 

When you write your essay, think about ways to say things differently and grab their attention. If they read the same thing all the time, this is an opportunity to show them a little personality where you can. This doesn't mean don't answer the question - it means, find a colorful or slightly more interesting way to do it. For example, my cousin applied to a dental program. She answered a question about the origin of her interest in dentistry with a fairly straight forward paragraph. However, she began that essay with the following sentence:

"Everyone has always told me you have got to be a little weird to be willing to put your hand in someone’s mouth."

I mean, I'm interested in what she has to say next, right?


3. Turn what's weird about you into what's great about you.

Along the lines of what Ashley did - I love this tip because it involves taking something about yourself, maybe even something weird or strange, and flipping it on its head. In college, I wrote a peer letter of recommendation for a friend to get into medical school. My friend is 4'11", red haired, and super sarcastic (and still is to this day). So my letter began,

"Tracy is the shortest person I know."

It went on to say a lot more than Tracy was short. In fact, I talked about how the fact that she was short and people made short jokes to her that she never minded spoke a lot about who she was as a person. I let it expand from there to how her red hair related to her character, and so on and so forth. These strange, seemingly disconnected things about Tracy gave the committee a real, dynamic and entertaining visual that spoke in a clever way to all the great things that would ultimately make her a great doctor.

So, what's your short joke? Or red hair? What are the things about you - maybe physical, recreational, or other - that could be a metaphor for the kind of person you are and/or aspire to be?

Oh, in case you're wondering, the letter was successful and was one thing that contributed to Tracy getting an admissions offer. Actually, the Chair of the Medical School Admissions Committee found me online and emailed me personally to tell me the letter exemplified why they ask for peer letters. So I share this just to say, get a little daring, stay professional but don't be afraid to let the person shine through.

So really, it all comes down to finding ways to share more you in your essay - whether they be physical attributes, funny facts, or great memories. Obviously, you sometimes can't pick the question or the word count, but there are ways - subtle and significant - to share your story with those who can help you write the next chapter.


Through Greatest Story, I am pleased to help students applying to college and professional schools tell their stories in admission applications. Please feel contact me if you or someone you know would be interested in a written polish for an upcoming application or essay. I can't wait to hear your short joke.