Navigating the big decisions together

Coauthored by Jason Vallozzi, Founder, Campus to Career Crossroads & Marisa De Marco-Costanzo, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Ivy & Quill

As the summer beach season is in full swing, many rising seniors struggle with why they need to brainstorm at the beach about their personal statement for their college application. Some rising seniors may even have supplemental essays to write for college admissions or honors colleges. As the college admissions process is more competitive than ever for all students, a one draft script is not sufficient.

The personal statement is the heart and soul of the college application. One critical aspect of an effective personal statement is thoughtful and reflective brainstorming. It allows a student to bring forward his/her story in a unique and distinct manner. It is so amazing to read a developed student personal statement that is not over-edited or parent influenced, allowing the student’s voice to resonate. 

Marisa De Marco-Costanzo, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Ivy & Quill Admission Essay Consulting and Editing Services, has assisted thousands of students domestically and internationally to have their best voice come forward in their personal statement and additional required essays. I have asked her to share some helpful advice on how rising seniors can start the brainstorming process. These are her suggestions:

“When students are faced with the daunting yet exciting task of developing their personal statements, they honestly don’t know where to begin and tend to put it off since it may be intimidating to start an essay—especially one about their lives. Time and time again, students have expressed to me that they feel a great sense of pressure to tell a poignant and memorable story to college admissions officers yet they have no idea where to begin and they don’t really know what to say.

In order to put them at ease, I always start off our initial brainstorming and background information meeting by letting them know that the process of developing their personal statement can be broken down into steps, which leads to the final draft. Instead of thinking about the “big picture,” it’s better to approach it in smaller parts that organically come together. In this way, students can put their energies into becoming reflective, deep thinkers and storytellers rather than being too overwhelmed, which impedes their creative thinking processes and memory recall.

If a student doesn’t have the possibility to work with an independent consultant, they can go through the brainstorming process on their own and can partake in a “stream of thought” journaling activity that becomes enjoyable and most importantly, informative. One can either write their ideas down on a piece of paper or type them up on the computer so later on, they can refer back to their thoughts.

A student can start out by reflecting upon some guiding questions that they can respond to in order to start the brainstorming process. These questions include:

  1. What are my academic areas of interests and why am I drawn to these areas?
  2. What has been a major academic challenge for me and what steps have I taken to make improvements?
  3. What do I intend to study at college and why do I want to pursue this area? Why is this area important to me?
  4. What is my most enjoyable and/or important extracurricular activity and why have I committed to it? How has this activity positively impacted me and shaped my character?
  5. What is one of the most memorable experiences that I have ever experienced? Why is this experience important to me? How has it impacted me?
  6. What is something that I would never change about my life and why?
  7. How has my family upbringing impacted my life choices and who I am as a person as a result?
  8. What is the most meaningful and important thing about my life?
  9. What has been a major obstacle that I have had to face and how did I overcome it or what steps I am taking at present to overcome it?
  10. Was there ever I time where I felt excluded from a group? If so, how did it make me feel and what did I do to navigate the situation?

Once the student gets their ideas down, they will go back and read through them in order to “pull out” some possible topic ideas for their personal statement. Yet ultimately, they will settle on a topic that can best be adapted to match one of the Common App prompts and that can be translated into a personal narrative essay that shows creativity and dynamic storytelling.”

Writing is a classical communication skill that stands the test of time. So instead of looking at your upcoming personal statement as another “college to-do item,” take the time to consider it as an opportunity to enhance your writing abilities. Perhaps, sharpening your writing skills may even launch you back to the beach in a professional position that affords you a generous salary and paid vacation days.

About the guest coauthor Marisa De Marco-Costanzo, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Ivy & Quill Admission Essay Consulting and Editing Services:

Marisa received a Master’s degree in Art and Art Education from Teachers College, Columbia University (2007) and a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the Fashion Institute of Technology – State University of New York. She holds her professional New York State teaching certification in Visual Arts (K-12) along with her Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification. From 2007-2014, she taught Art and Technology at a premier North Shore Long Island school district, ranked as one of the “Top 300 Public High Schools in America” (#224 out of 18,841). She is a member of the International Association of Professional Writers & Editors and has written over 150 articles and essays, which can be read in a variety of prestigious publications. Since 2015, Marisa has closely worked with college-bound students in the development of their admission essays by providing extensive consulting and editing services. Marisa has devoted her career to educating students from all walks of life and guiding them to reach their highest potential.

For inquiries about admission essay consulting and editing services, please visit www.ivyandquill.com

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