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3 KEY Tips for Writing Your College Essay

Guest Contributor

According to the PEW Research Fact Tank “in 2014, 35% of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in a two- or four-year college.” Still lagging in completion rate, however, “as of 2014, among Hispanics ages 25 to 29, just 15% of Hispanics have a bachelor’s degree or higher.” So many Latinas today are the first teachers in the college admissions process, at least to their families. As first gen college students or the first to leave the state to study, they are tasked with selling the journey along while trekking on its tumultuous path.

What does this mean for their college application experience…the very beginning of the journey for Latinas???

Answer: That without a robust support system when it comes to the daunting process of college applications, you can feel isolated, confused and defeated before you even begin. It’s hard to be your own cheerleader when you’re not sure you’re doing it RIGHT yourself. This is why seeking out mentors, advisors, teachers and friends is key to a successful process; however, I advise to take it a step further and make sure you are clear as to what exactly you want guidance on…hear everyone’s opinions but be brave enough to vet them as just that, informed opinions…you are your BEST guide in the process. Question everything and remain true to you in all aspects of the application process.

Therefore, Latinas, listen up!!! Here’s my advice – 3 quick tips on how to approach your main personal statement…the college application essay that will range from 400-650 words:

  1. Bring in stories and reflections on those stories.

The 1-3 short anecdotes you pick to help tell your story should SHOW moments of diversity. Okay, so pause – what is an anecdote? An anecdote should capture a moment, a memory, a scene in your life. Doesn’t have a clean beginning, middle, and end. Really, it’s like taking a camera and filming your family’s Sunday dinner. The best anecdotes start in the middle of things, plunging into the middle of a conversation, catching someone laughing without telling the joke, leaving more unsaid, uncaptured than what you actually share, but sharing enough that you catch the reader’s attention and you present details that you’ll be able to analyze later. You have just enough to SHOW the essence of…a character trait you want to reflect upon later in the essay like family, discipline, grit, open-mindedness, etc.

Could be funny exchanges, like a joke at your expense, or more serious encounters like a moment when someone assumed you were one type of person or another based on social scripts or cultural assumptions…despite how someone engages with you, you NEVER respond angry or entitled.

***As a rule of thumb —- you don’t deserve anything because you check off one race/ethnicity box over another. What you accomplish by showcasing diversity is the dimension of cultural richness you will bring to campus. How your experiences and perspectives will enrich whatever campus you step onto.

  1.      Do you speak Spanish? Spanglish? Or do you just smile when your abuelita talks to you in Spanish, knowing your mom will translate later???

Even if you’re not fluent in Spanish or any other language, if you have multiple languages spoken in your home space, bring them into your anecdotes through dialogue. Living and learning in multiple cultural spaces is a great asset and one sometimes taken for granted. It suggests you inherently understand that there are multiple perspectives to the world, that people live differently, believe differently and that that is okay. Back to abuelita…a great essay opener could be abuelita speaking to you in Spanish, you smiling and nodding and your mom chuckling in the background because she knows you’ll ask her later what abuelita said. This is an anecdote; you captured a light-hearted, funny moment that can take you to reflections on larger questions towards the end of the essay ranging from generational knowledge to how traditions are lost from one generation to the next. Further, you could ponder – how if not through language, how do you find belonging within your identity? Which takes me to my next point…

  1.      SHOW your markers of identity by narrating traditions, rituals, rites of passage. 

Whenever possible teach your audience something. Examples of rituals, culture, and even language invites multiple voices, perspectives, frameworks into your essay, which invites a layering which deepens the essay. Also, this is a great way of shifting tone from descriptive storytelling to didactic authority. Teach the rules of engagement of whatever tradition you just shared an anecdote on…then move to another related anecdote. Once you build up enough primary material then begin a new paragraph where you start your critical analysis…where you break down what is in play in those anecdotes.

A quick example from a former student –

The student loves to go fly fishing with her cousins; one of her favorite movies is a classic A River Runs Through It (1992) which has fly fishing scenes. So after the opening anecdote where she watches the movie at home for pure entertainment with family, translating key moments to her grandfather in Spanish, she moves on to a new paragraph where she teaches the reader how to bait and maneuver the rod to improve outcome. Basically, she teaches the theory of fly fishing to her readers then moves onto another anecdote about connecting what she’s learning about fly fishing to her experiences on the soccer field. Towards the end, she ponders on culture, and belonging, independence versus the collective and how she sees herself as part of a community within nature that transcends ethnic and tribalistic boundaries.  

A GREAT, GREAT example of anecdote, reflection and didactic authority is an investigation on the crazy, elaborate and politically charged experience of turning 15 — (there’s an abridged version with the same title is) Julia Alvarez’s Once Upon a Quinceañera! Now, I’m a professor of writing by trade so I can’t help but give you homework…even if you read just a few pages of this text, it shows magnificently how you can switch from anecdote to critical reflection and how planning a fifteen’s party can mean so much more than a birthday…its tangles reach gendered expectations, class, access, affordability, generational difference, etc.

While these tips will definitely improve your proclamation of self…it’s also a really enriching moment of reflection, to pause and appreciate who you are and where you’ve come from.

Still today so many Latinas are first gen college students and this experience doesn’t usually happen in a vacuum. When you walk onto a college campus you bring with you deferred dreams of generations past mixed with a fresh optimism of today’s promise. When you reflect back on the anecdotes you pick, they will probably be full of family members, stories and memories inherited, lived or wished upon. This can be beautiful but it can also be burdensome. Make sure any and all steps you take in your academic career are for you…no one else will live the everyday triumphs and frustrations…and, please remember, that an acceptance letter is just the beginning. What you do with it is up to…



(BIO) Dr. Josie Urbistondo earned her Ph. D. in English Literature at the University of Miami after receiving her M.A. from New York University and B.A. from Florida International University. Currently, she is a faculty member at the University of Miami and CEO, Chief Essay Officer for Write Your Acceptance. WYA offers students a comprehensive curriculum and community focused on helping them articulate their best self to gain entrance into college. For more tips and techniques, sign up for WYA’s mailing list on their website – Also, find on her IG and FB @writeyouracceptance.


Author: Guest Contributor


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