Essay Two: Autobiographical Essay
Due Dates:1st Draft:9/11/01
Your purpose in this essay is twofold:first to describe persons and narrate significant events in your life, and second to analyze how these experiences relate to your attitudes toward the world and how these attitudes have influence your thinking, values, and beliefs.This essay gives you the opportunity to reflect on and analyze the personal experiences that have shaped your attitudes toward yourself, your family, your community, and the world.
Your are to reflect upon your life and choose a period of time during which you experienced some type of change. The change may be either physical, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof; the change is not limited to these examples. The time period should be approximately a week or more (any period of time longer than); one single day does not an event make, unless the single day’s event is so dramatic that change occurs over a period of time as a result of that single day’s event.
The event may be as a result of a person’s actions or inactions, a geographical move, a tragic accident, winning the lottery, winning a sports championship, losing your best friend to cancer, etc. The possibilities are endless.
This phase in time should begin with an example of how you were before the phase began. Give the reader a good sampling of what you were like before; help the reader draw a mental image. Describe the phase in detail, but do not overwhelm your reader with irrelevant details. What was the initial "spark" that started the phase? Was it a person? An animal? An event? A non-event? Show how the phase progressed. During this, give a sampling of the change in you as it began to take place. Then show your reader the difference in you now, after the phase. Perhaps explain or comment on if this change was for the better or the worse; we are not here to judge each other, simply improve our writing. Give the phase a solid conclusion, perhaps a parable-type ending with a moral (if applicable).
Possible sources for topics include phases when you:
Played on a winning (or losing) sports team.
Were a character in a school play.
Were trying to keep a New Year’s resolution or a promise to someone.
Were recovering from a serious accident or injury.
Were experiencing spiritual growth.
Were rebelling against your parents and/or other authority.
Were influenced by a teacher, coach, or other authority figure.
Were struggling to keep up in a difficult class.
Were campaigning for an election (either yourself or another candidate).
Were adjusting to a change in your family’s situation.
Were learning to do something completely new to you (swimming, hang gliding, playing guitar, underwater basket weaving, etc).
Went to summer camp.
Were falling in (or out of) love.
Were moving to a new place (either across town or the country).
Were becoming (un)popular.
Were joining a new social or civic group.
Became a leader for the first time.
Try to choose a phase that ended some time ago instead of one that is still occurring or recently ended. This will allow you to reflect, which is important to the autobiographical phase style of writing.
Journal Exercise for Autobiograhy Assignment
List two or three phases you could write about. Be sure these are phases you went through some time ago, and that each of them lasted for more than just a couple of days. They should be times when you changed in a way that was important in your life.
Pick the one you would most like to write about. Put a star by it on the list you made. Make sure you have chosen a phase you are not still going through right now or one that only recently ended. It is difficult to reflect and see clearly when we are still involved or so close to the phase.
Write three or four sentences telling why this phase is important to you, how you changed during this phase, and why you would like to write about it.Now, below the sentences you have just written, make a list down the page of the main things that happened during the phase, from beginning to end. Don’t tell the story yet. Just list the most important parts of the story.
Under your list, write one sentence telling when your phase took place (what year, season, month for example) and where your phase happened; this may be more than one place.
Here comes the big question: of all the phases you listed back in step one, is this the one you most want to write about? If you are not sure, if you are uncomfortable with it, if it brings back too painful memories, you may wish to pick a different phase. It’s not too late to change your mind.
If you do pick a different phase, then do steps three and four above for the new phase.
Once you have chosen the phase you will write about, freewrite on this topic for 5 minutes.Freewriting is a special kind of writing that lets you use the act of writing to “discover" what you already know. It works only if you write without planning and without looking back at what you have already written. Set a specific period of time (say, five minutes) then write non-stop, without worrying about spelling or grammar. Write as fast as you can for as long as you can or until time expires. If you reach a point where you can no longer think of anything to write, simply rewrite your last word over and over again until something comes to mind. The simple plan is to keep writing, no matter what.
You will be surprised at how many ideas you can get down in five minutes.
Many scholarship applications – like most college applications – require an autobiographical essay, which is basically a personal statement that describes who you are. It gives the judges an idea of your background, your personality, your character – details about you that you can only describe in an essay (unless you have an interview).
Oftentimes, the prompts for these personal statements are worded like this: “Tell us a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.” To write a powerful and effective autobiographical essay, there are several key ideas to keep in mind.
Choose a Convincing Story and Focus on a Theme
When you choose the story to write about, think about unique experiences that make you who you are. If you’re thinking about writing about your short-term mission trip to Mexico or how you became your school’s student body president, keep in mind that students from all around the United States will be submitting unique and individual stories. Instead of writing about topics that are cliché or canned (like canned goods that are ready to be opened and used), think deeply into your experiences — what events throughout your life have shaped how you think and act today.
Ask yourself, “If there’s something about me that others would not know through my academics, extracurricular activities, and resume, what would that be?” Imagine sitting down with a scholarship judge or admissions counselor who asks, “If there is one thing you want me to know about you, what would that be?” You want your story to make sense and to capture your reader’s attention. Choose an aspect of your life that you want to focus on and shape your essay to reflect that theme. For example, if you have overcome tremendous hardship that has shaped your character, then focus on how your adversity helped build your character. Specifically, relate this event to the broader lessons of life so that the reader can better understand your development.
Capture the Reader’s Attention
The first step in actually writing the essay is to begin with a creative way of capturing the reader’s attention. Write in a style that you are most comfortable with. Some ways of writing your intro are by narrating a specific event from a first person point of view that reflects the theme of your essay or by describing a certain scenario from a third person point of view. Regardless of your approach, remember to end your intro with a sentence that leaves the reader excited to continue reading and learn more about you.
Strengthening the Body
After a strong intro, the body of the essay continues to tell the story of your experiences. It takes the snapshot you present in the intro and supports it with necessary and specific detail. Don’t overwrite and include information that is irrelevant or wordy. Keep it simple and straightforward. The body of the essay should show – not tell – the story, meaning you should demonstrate your own personal growth and development through relevant examples. As you write, make sure to share how you felt so the reader can really see your character development. Emotions matter. Keep organization and logical sequence in mind as well. Judges take notice of your conventions and organization. As you move toward your conclusion, the tone of your writing should become more positive and optimistic. It should lead right into your conclusion.
Conclusions That Circle Back
If you want a nicely balanced essay, the beginning of your conclusion should put the cap on the story portion of your essay. It should emphasize a sense of hope in the context of your writing and demonstrate a positive change that continues into today. Following that, you might want to restate that it was “through this specific (you want to state it explicitly) experience” that you learned the specific lessons. Regardless of how, make sure to state specifically the lessons you learned and tie them into a big picture outlook. I have found it effective to use a powerful quote that relates to your theme and content, but this is, of course, a personal choice. Use the writing tips from Writer’s Block to craft a conclusion that resonates with the reader.
To complete the essay, tie back to the opening lines/event/experience in the intro to create a more cohesive and well-rounded essay. Your last sentence should reflect and state the most profound lesson you have learned throughout your experience and give the reader a sense of empowerment and awe. It should leave them thinking and pondering about their own lives, experiences, and struggles; yet, provide them with hope and optimism. A scholarship is an organization’s financial investment in you, so your essay should reflect why they would be investing their money wisely by awarding you the scholarship.
Tips to Keep in Mind
It is natural to want to use large vocabulary words to flex your intellectual muscles; but, when you’re writing a personal statement about your life, it’s best to stay simple and straightforward. Avoid using five words where three will do. If you have to use a thesaurus, chances are the reader’s not going to know exactly what the words mean so stick with simple vocab. Just be yourself, not who you think the judges want you to be. Your personal statement is an autobiography that speaks about your life, your experiences, and your reflections, so remember to tell the truth. You don’t have to make up situations or add fluff to tell a poignant story. Remember, the essay is a marketing piece that tells judges why the scholarship organization should invest their money in you.
With that said, maintain a certain level of sophistication in your writing so that the judges recognize your skills. Don’t fall into a casual conversational tone, but keep in mind that your writing should reflect your voice. The reader should be able to see your personality in the essay through your style, tone, and voice. After you’ve written your autobiographical essay, remember to edit and revise your essay several times. Have your teachers, peers, and family read over it and give you feedback and suggestions for improvement. As always, feel free to email us through the For Students page if you’d like some help brainstorming or if you’d like a Scholarship Junkie to read over your essay and give you comments and feedback.