A teacher at one of my recent college essay workshops asked,
“What are some good ways for kids to approach the Common Application essay prompt about a person who’s influenced them?"
Here a few tips.
1. Remember what “influence” means.
Influence is defined as, “the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another…” The fact that you admire someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve influenced you. There needs to be some action or change in your actions, behavior or opinions. That means you'll need to give specific examples of those things. Deciding to improve your behavior in school, visiting a particular college you previously refused to see, spending more time volunteering at the soup kitchen—if you did those things because of someone else, that’s influence.
2. Don’t choose this prompt to try to sound impressive.
The Common Application actually gives you five choices of essay prompts. A lot of students who choose this one write about a famous activist, politician, or someone else notable in an effort to sound impressive. Again, you have to remember what “influence” means. The admissions committee doesn’t need to be convinced that Martin Luther King or Gandhi are admirable. Unless you can point to specific examples of how someone famous really has affected your actions, behavior or opinions, choose someone else (or chose a different topic).
3. Focus on the influence, not the person.
The exact wording of the question is, “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.” The subtext there is that you shouldn’t spend the entire essay describing why this person is so wonderful. Spend the essay talking about you—your behavior, actions and beliefs—and how those have changed or strengthened as a result of this person’s influence.
4. Write an essay nobody else could write.
An essay about how your mother has inspired you to work hard is a nice essay. But it will read exactly like hundreds of other students’ essays. Instead, be specific. Give details. Write an essay that no other student could write. And if it’s about your mom, give enough specific examples so that nobody else’s essay about their own mother will be quite like yours.
You can find even more advice in our video, “How to Write Great College Essays.” It’s $12.99 and available as a streaming download.
Filed Under: College essays
1. Make a list of desired scholarships with essays.
Whether through websites such as scholarships.com or recommendations from your high school counselor, the first step in scholarship essay contests is locating them. Look for contest topics that you have a strong connection to. Love history? Great. There are a number of essay contests on that topic.
2. Read rules carefully.
Disregarding rules such as length or attributing sources can eliminate you from a competition, even if you write the world's best essay. Compile a one-page note sheet with details you can refer to when you're writing. This helpful sheet could include rules you need to follow such as length, topic, and sources mentioned. It will also include anything you learned from reading previous winners.
3. Read the essays of former winners.
Take notes on commonalities among former winners’ essays. Did they use personal stories, historical facts, or sourced information? Note: You can find commonalities even if topics vary. For instance, you could use a personal story to talk about weight loss or student loans. They’re entirely different topics, but personal experience helps make your thoughts relevant to the reader.
4. Pick a subject you understand for your essay.
Don’t duplicate a past winner’s essay subject. Let's say the contest is always about the person you most admire. The last winner wrote about a fireman. So don't write about a fireman! The judges want to know who you are via the qualities you admire in others. Your essay topic or person should have a unique story to tell.
5. Use a second set of eyes.
It’s always important to have someone else read your work. This will help ensure your thoughts are translating to the page. Another person’s viewpoint will help you refine your copy. Plus, your reader may catch grammar mistakes you've missed.
Check out 6 Tips for Winning Scholarships for more ways to earn scholarship money.