Go through the process several times. The old saying goes “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and it is very applicable in this situation. Don’t settle on the first idea that comes to mind. The more you have the better the chances of discovering something truly excellent.
Show your idea to several people. Getting lots of input from friends, teachers, and parents is essential to this whole process. The most important thing is to ask these people not which idea they think is the best but which is the most interesting. If you can capture the attention of your peers and your mentors, you will do the same for the people reading your essay because they are essentially the same people.
Keep in mind the biases of the people reviewing your ideas. This is a small but important point. If you decide to write about how your grandmother inspired you, clearly your parents will be very pleased with this idea. These are the types of things you will need to take into account.
The best strategy is to take an aggregate of the opinions you receive. There is an important social theory based on the wisdom of crowds. It contains a great deal of value in processes like these. The best way to cancel out people’s biases is to put everyone’s opinion together. The idea the largest number of people considers to be interesting is likely to be the most interesting.
Don’t discard your other ideas quite yet. Remember you have to be able to turn these ideas into an essay with some specific constraints. Take your two or three best ideas. Outline them in the process described in How to Start Your College Essay.
Now, you have to ask yourself several questions. Can you write a complete essay without loose ends with this topic? Don’t be afraid to throw away your best idea and go with your second choice. Forcing an interesting idea into a specific format can easily ruin it. You may end up with unfinished strands or may just not even have enough to say to fulfill the word count. The solution isn’t to add fluff; this will only serve to lose the attention of the reader. Removing information may result unfinished thoughts and loose ends that leave the reader with an incomplete feeling.
So now you have your most practical idea ready to be elaborated upon. Next week’s post will go through the do’s and don’ts of the writing and reviewing process.