Figuring out what topics to explore in application essays for universities can be daunting. We have helped students in Singapore and around the world with this process, and below are some tips we recommend to help you before you even get started writing the essays.
1. Keep a journal
This is something you can start anytime! Whether you’re a few years away from applying to universities, or six months away from applying, looking back at your thoughts over a period of time can give you a good sense of how your perspective has changed. It can also jog your memory about things that happened which you had forgotten about. Depending on how much time you have until you apply, you can try to write in your journal daily, weekly, or monthly. Things you can include:
- What your current goals are (what matters to you right now);
- Things you’re grateful for or really excited about;
- Problems in your life that you want to solve, and some potential solutions;
- Things that are making you angry, stressed, or upset – think about why they make you feel that way, and how you can help yourself (these can eventually lead to moments of realization or self-discovery)
- Anything you want to learn more about, and why
- What or who inspires you at the moment
2. Keep a list of achievements
These do not have to be official awards, although those are useful for other aspects of the application. For the essays, your list of achievements can include anything that you feel proud of, anything you feel is an achievement for you, and why. Even if you don’t write about your achievements in your essays, they may still be a relevant part of the journey you want to share with admissions committees.
3. Brainstorm broadly
Set aside more than a few days to really think about the various activities and experiences that changed you or that you learned from. If you were going to have someone write your biography, what would some of the highlights be? Don’t limit yourself only to recent or time-consuming experiences. At the brainstorming stage, include anything that has been meaningful in your development as a person.
You can also think about your goals. What kinds of people would you like to help? What causes are you most excited about addressing? You may not have any specific goals in mind at first, but keep that question in mind over time. Once you come up with some goals, think about why they are important to you and how you have come to care about them as well as the steps you can take to get closer to reaching them. For example, maybe there is an issue which you feel has not been solved yet because two different disciplines or groups of people need to work together. Do you have a plan to bring them together? Aside from just brainstorming what you have already done, thinking broadly about goals and how you have come to care about them is a good way to show who you have become and how you have gotten to where you are now.