Many universities require applicants to write an autobiographical essay as a prerequisite for acceptance. Crafting a concise, compelling life-story essay requires paring down your points to the basics while still engaging readers. The essay should describe your disappointments and successes and what you have learned from them without coming off as conceited or pompous. You can strike the right balance by digging deep within yourself and expressing your accomplishments, hopes, dreams and goals through a well-written autobiographical essay.

Key Life Event Timeline

Make a timeline of the key events in your life, including your birth, childhood years, junior high and high school years. Highlight key accomplishments or awards. Winning the high school spelling bee or helping your father at his repair shop every day after school are some possible life experiences to include. Write down the events that helped shape your sense of self and your outlook on the world.

Overall Theme

Choose an overall theme or focus for your article. Simply listing events from your life doesn't make the autobiography interesting. Think about a theme you might give your life. Perhaps you've focused on volunteering and making your community better or faced a series of difficult events but overcome the adversity. Keep the overall focus in mind as you choose events and include them in the essay.

Find Voice

Use a voice in the autobiography that reflects your personality. Don't use slang or write too casually, but avoid stuffy or academic-style writing that drains all of your personality from the piece. The goal is a casual tone that is still professional and appropriate for your university audience.

Introduction Sentence

Open the autobiography with an attention-grabbing sentence. Avoid sentences such as "I'm going to tell you about my life." Jump right into the stories to interest your readers. You might say, "Summers on the farm meant early morning chores and long days in the field, but my rural upbringing taught me the keys to hard work and perseverance." Include your overall theme here and start painting a picture of your life.

The Early Years

Write about your parents and point out anything unique about your upbringing or childhood. Some things like divorce or a death in the family may be hard to write about. However, examining difficult subjects can shows that you're mature and can tackle tough issues. Consider writing about how you grew stronger or what you learned after painful events or disappointments in your life.

School Interests

Another option is to discuss your passions related to school. Even if you're not at the top of your class, writing about what motivates and drives you will show admissions officers that you are willing to work hard to achieve what you want. If your high school courses don't interest you, write about which types of classes you'd like to take in college and why. Browse through prospective colleges' course listings and mention a few that spark your interest.

Community Involvement

Writing about your passions in the world can also showcase your life's goals. Perhaps you volunteer on the weekends helping the homeless or elderly. Maybe you'd like to go into politics to make your community a better place or study architecture to create safe, affordable housing. Make a list of what drives you and select one or two ideas to write about in your essay.


Finish the essay by discussing why the particular university you're applying to will help foster your goals. Write about why the academic program, the culture and the town itself will help you grow as a person and help you become a responsible, contributing citizen. Tailor your essays to be specific for the college you're interested in.

Be Honest

Always tell the truth in your essay. You don't have to be a straight-A student, high school quarterback or cheerleader to wow admissions officers. Speaking your own personal truth and expressing your convictions and goals can be just as effective as an impressive academic or extracurricular resume. Keep your language simple and straightforward. Using big vocabulary words probably won't make you come off as smart. In fact, it may make you seem pretentious and give off a tone that doesn't reflect your actual self.


Show your essay to your friends, parents and teachers for feedback. Try not to take their criticism as an insult; learn from it and incorporate their suggestions into your essay before submitting to colleges.

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