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hi my name is Maura Allen and I'm the author of right now essential tips for standout college essays and today we're going to talk about brainstorming when I'm working with students one of the things I most frequently hear is I don't know what to write about nothing big or interesting has happened to me well I just don't believe that I know that every single senior has a story to tell but the real challenge is just trying to find that story we know ourselves but sometimes we just can't see our own strengths what the brainstorm exercises will help you do is to find what those strengths are identify the stories and then move forward to develop the essay we're going to look at three different ways to brainstorm you can do them all you can try one oftentimes students will say to me well I know what my strengths are I'm great at math I love drama I'm a great athlete those are really your talents those are things you do well what we're trying to find our strengths or underlying qualities so you might be great in math and science because you're able to take complex information and make sense of it or you might just be really observant you might be more of a quiet type person who can really see things that others might not see it can make connections that's a strength also it's a strength in fact of many artists so no surprise our strengths and what we love to do often relate are intertwined but for this essay what we want to do is find where you really shine the first one will use an online tool and it's a personality trait tool that relies on the myers-briggs Type Indicator one of the things that I think is great about the online tool is that oftentimes we know some of our strengths and it's a great way to taking what you know is true about yourself but going way beyond that and it gives you a whole new set of language and ideas often times when I'm working with students and we use the tool they'll take the online diagnostic and they'll say wow that's me oftentimes we know what our strengths are I know that I'm a creative type of person but sometimes it's hard to articulate the tests tells them things that they know about themselves you know deep in their heart or in their mind but it gives them a whole new way of expressing it let's review the results from one high school senior that I coached recently when he took the online personality test or diagnostic his type came back as ENTJ and that stands for in the myers-briggs language extroverted intuitive thinking judging here's what the tool said about ent J's they push their goals through with sheer willpower with their extroverted nature they're likely to push everyone else right along with them energetic they enjoy leading teams forward implementing plans and goals so those are the strengths of that type of person so the next step we did was we took those strengths and then worked to identify when those may have showed up in his life when they were manifested and the more specific he could be the better the stories that were resulting from it for the student I was coaching there were two traits that seemed to have the biggest richest stories associated with them one was his strength of being strong willed the other was charismatic both those strengths really came into play when he was starting a new club at school a ping-pong club he wrote about how he gathered students in each grade to become club members about finding a teacher who could be the champion or their advocate on campus they needed to raise money to buy the equipment they needed to find a place to set up the tables and organize the fundraisers they did a student/teacher ping-pong match to raise money for a local charity all of those facts showed that he had a strong will he was determined at first when he wanted to start the club the school said there's plenty of clubs we don't need it but he found a way to make it happen and that shows his strong will he never explicitly uses those words in his essays but by telling his story he's able to let those strengths show but also realized that he was charismatic he inspired other people to get involved he inspired adults the teacher to get involved he inspired parents to do ping pong championships and tournaments with the kids and so those were his strengths and the story of the ping pong club helps showcase those strengths it's important to recognize you don't need to summarize and say I'm charismatic I'm strong will if you find yourself saying that's when I realized or that's when I learned or the most important lesson was that's not necessary in fact it takes away from your story let them draw those conclusions let's do brainstorm number two it's called my three words what you want to do is identify six to eight people who know you well think about people from different parts of your life maybe two friends a parent a teacher to a coach and older sibling ask each of them the same question what three adjectives best describe me you can ask them in person by phone or text and the key is write down exactly what they tell you here are the results from one student that I coached in Seattle the next step is where things really get interesting we're going to map out the findings her findings clustered around three main themes builder problem solver free spirit we brainstormed a couple possibilities and she began to focus in on one example where her strengths really did shine she worked in the summer daycare center and she had a lot she was in charge of a lot of four to five year olds and the center had two clear rules no TV no technology so her challenge was how do you entertain or keep occupied a lot of little kids without any sort of devices so she started building things with them she used the constraint of no TV no technology to figure out a workaround she had all the kids gather things around the room each day they do a different project what this showed as she started to brainstorm that idea was that she is a problem solver she figured out a way to have the constraint not be an impediment she found solutions around it she wants to study childhood psychology so she had the added benefit of having a story that showcased her strengths ie problem-solving and reinforced that interest or her area of study for college this story is about who she's going to become your essay is not a rearview mirror and you know a reporting of a job that you had or an event that happened in your life you need to show development and where you're going and who you want to become that helps the admissions officers see the type of student you will be when you're at school on their campus now let's look at a third brainstorm if your results don't prompt ideas a good way to get things moving is to do a free write over one or two weeks my recommendation is to do free write in a journal and if you'd like to see some prompts that can help you get started on those free writes we've included them in a separate article within this resource once you've got your ideas mapped out as part of the brainstorm you're going to want to start sharing them in story format and eventually write them in story format for your application one of the great things to do is to think about the story and start to share those socialize them tell your friends the story tell your parents tell a teacher and you'll start to see what parts of the story begin to resonate with people where they laugh where they say wow that sounds like you and you'll start to be able to shape that story and give it greater strength so we all know that the essay is a key part of your application and it's the one area that you've got total control over hope these tips have helped let's start writing standout college essays