In my last blog post, I wrote about the value of a summer job and how it can give you meaty material for your admissions essay or personal statement. Since, I’ve actually spoken to a woman, Jenny Williams, who used to work in admissions at Centre College (the most prestigious college in Kentucky). She told me the best essay she ever read — and she read hundreds — was about a kid cleaning out the frozen yogurt machine at his summer job.
So, we know the summer job angle works. But, if you really want to up the ante? Don’t just write about your job in your essay. Start a blog and write about it continuously this summer, shedding your pithy observations along the way.
In fact, hosting a blog for any reason will always look good on a school application.
Why? Admissions officers are looking for objective evidence that shows what you’re made of. To an extent, your grades do that. Your extra-curriculars do that. Your test scores do, too.
Your personal statement or admissions essay is, by necessity, subjective since it’s you telling them about who you are. But if you can inject some empirical evidence that proves your commitment, insight and work ethic inside that subjective medium? That’s admissions gold.
A blog gives you that.
More advantages of writing a blog?
- It’s free.
- It forces you to document this time in your life, which is actually pretty special.
- It forces you to think about what you’re learning.
- You get experience writing in a casual, conversational way.
- It strengthens your resumé.
- It can help you draft your personal statement.
- It can help admissions officers get to know more about you.
So, how to do it?
STEP 1: ESTABLISH YOUR PLATFORM
For the past several years, I’ve used wordpress.com and have found it to be extremely user-friendly. You basically write within what looks a little like a Microsoft Word document, except with some neat features, like the ability to add videos and attach links.
I’ve also used blogger.com, which was likewise easy-peasy to use. For a list of available blogging platforms, including pros and cons for each, click here.
After you choose your platform and have designed your page (also easy), choose a name for your blog that is catchy. If you can’t think of anything, you can always just use your own name, especially if you have an unusual one (like Kaprowy).
STEP 2: CHOOSE YOUR BLOG’S FOCUS
Narrowing your focus and identifying the point of your blog will be key in helping you come up with topics you want to address. Your purpose can be to write about:
- your last year(s) of high school, college, med school, law school, graduate school.
- your part-time job.
- where you volunteer or intern.
- your summer.
- your town, neighborhood, city.
- the people you’ve randomly met throughout your day.
- anything you know a lot about or want to know a lot about (climate change, technology, travel, birds, food, etc.)
It helps if the focus is broad enough that topics will be easy to come up with, but narrow enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by your choices. You know you have the right focus if you can easily come up with five or 10 topics to write about right off the bat.
STEP 3: WRITE A POST ONCE A WEEK
Obviously, the frequency with which you blog is up to you, but I do feel like once a week is a good, reasonable goal. I write for The Toasted Tomato every Tuesday morning, and I find it helps to have a routine to keep me going and committed.
As for your topic, know that no topic is too small. In fact, the narrower the lens, often the more you can explore. For example, writing about a whole day in a blog post is extremely ambitious (and can tend to be plodding). But if you had an interesting experience with a customer at work, that one moment of your day, if vividly described, can be rather fascinating.
in fact, that’s my favorite part about blogging: it makes you attuned to the smallest bits of life. Engaging in the act of accurately describing those bits forces you to analyze them along the way and, usually, you’ll find that a lot of insight, beauty, humor, symbolism, even irony live inside them.
STEP 4: CHOOSE A TOPIC THAT REALLY INTERESTS YOU
While the goal of your blog may initially be somewhat strategic, I hope that you’ll eventually find enjoyment out of it. That enjoyment will come if you can identify a topic that really made an impact on you. Again, it doesn’t have to be big and world-changing, it just has to be something that matters to you.
For example, I’ve written two blog posts recently about how I regret my haircut, and how that’s affected my day-to-day. Because they’re honest and a bit funny, they’ve resulted in a good number of comments and it’s been fun having that back and forth with readers.
Try to zero in on a subject that you feel strongly about. Also, if you are making an argument or presenting a theory in your blog, make sure you do your research and back it up with data. Don’t just say, “One study found,” find that study and link to it in your blog.
STEP 5: WRITE HOW YOU SPEAK
Another great thing about blogging is you can feel absolutely free to shed any pretense. Even though there is the potential that other people will read your entries, you are, above all, writing for yourself. As such, try to approach the writing process in a conversational, casual way, kind of like how you write if you’re writing in a journal, in an email to a friend, even via text.
Knowing that this blog is essentially a little home you’ve built for yourself in the midst of the Internet can be comforting and can allow your voice, your real voice, to come through in a way that it never can when writing papers or reports.
STEP 5: BE AWARE ANYONE CAN READ YOUR POSTS
While you may be largely writing for yourself in your blog, obviously anyone can read your posts, which means you want to be careful. For example, I wouldn’t recommend using space to complain about the tedium of your summer job (however intense it may be). I also wouldn’t get in the habit of criticizing anyone (except yourself) or using the space to vent (venting can be OK if it’s funny and non-specific though, especially if you make it obvious that, in the end, you’re the ridiculous one).
That’s not to say you have to be falsely positive or dishonest, it just means that you may want to avoid topics that lead to “I hate everyone” territory. Ultimately, no matter the topic, reading a blog allows you to get to know the writer: how she thinks, what makes him tick, how she reacts and responds to life, how he extracts meaning. If all I’m reading is a 500-word complaint, and not even an amusing one, there isn’t much more I need to know about that writer.
As an aside, also be aware that admissions officers don’t hesitate to check you out on social media. Click here for more information on that front.
STEP 6: USE FUN IMAGES
There are so many options here, from videos to GIPHYs to amazing photography to help illustrate your points and story. Obviously, if you can use your own photos and videos, so much the better. If you can’t, I love unsplash.com and pexels.com. They have great photography that is royalty free (meaning anyone is allowed to use the images for free).
STEP 7: LET IT SETTLE AND START YOUR EDIT
I never publish a blog post on the same day as I write one. I certainly understand why it’s tempting, as you’re never more excited to get your word out as the day you finish typing it. But experience has taught me to take a break and come back to what I’ve written after a night’s rest. In the clear light of day, you’ll be amazed by what you change, cut, add and clarify.
STEP 8: PRESS PUBLISH AND READ OTHER BLOGS
It’s a fine day when you get to press that publish button. After you do, it’s time to get some readers. Write about your blog post on social media. Follow other blogs (this, this and this includes some good lists) and encourage its writers to check yours out.
And finally, give yourself a little pat on the back. You’ve created something that is just yours in the middle of the World Wide Web. And something that could very well help you in your academic career.
If you have any questions, as usual, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org