Haven’t started your college essay yet and it’s due soon. Oops! I know you meant start weeks ago, but life got in the way and now it seems like a daunting task. Let’s see if this helps.

What’s your favorite movie? What’s your favorite fictional story or book? Mine is Wizard of Oz. In fact, I have the DVD from Netflix and watched it five times over Christmas. What’s so great about this classic? It’s the same story with Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker – Hero Takes a Journey. In fact, the hero takes a journey and its cousin, stranger comes to town, are two themes that form the basis of most fictional books and movies. When hero’s bloom or stranger’s arrive, things start shaken.

From left to right, Clara Blandick, Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton and Charley Grapewin star in the MGM film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, 1939. In this scene, Almira Gulch arrives to take Dorothy’s dog Toto away for termination, after he bit her. (Photo by MGM Studios/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

You’re the hero in your essay and you are called to action. Dorothy was called to action when Miss Gulch took Toto. Harry Potter was called when Hogwarts accepted him even when he didn’t know he’d applied. If neither had responded to the call, there wouldn’t have been a movie, right?

Heroes face obstacles and challenges that must be overcome. Dorothy had to find her way to Oz and take the broom away from the Wicked Witch. Harry had to keep himself safe from those who wanted to kill him. Each learned something during their adventure. Both had external as well as internal growth. Harry gained the confidence in his abilities to defeat the dark powers. Dorothy learned that home was where she belonged.

You get the idea, right? You, the hero, take a journey in your essay. You don’t have to land in Oz or fly to Hogwarts to be a hero. Let me demonstrate with a sentence outline:

I used to work at a fast food restaurant and ate there every time I worked.

We used to put dull pennies in the hot sauce for a few minutes until they turned shiny.

We joked about what it was doing to our stomachs. (Call to Action) I became concerned.

I researched information about fast food for a school paper I had to write. (Begin journey) Boy, was I surprised at what I learned.

I quit. It took a while but I found a job in a natural grocery store so I could learn healthier eating.

I haven’t eaten fast food since. I lost twenty pounds and my acne cleared.

People noticed. I started talking about food choices and its impact on weight and skin. Some people made joked but others listened. (obstacles)

A few of us started bringing lunches and then started a nutrition club at our high school. We are working toward healthier food choices in the cafeteria. The cooks weren’t interested at first because they were used to their style of cooking. People from the natural grocery store came and gave training on healthier cooking.

I want to major in nutrition in college so I can continue helping people with healthy food choices. (resolution) Boy, I’m happy I learned about pennies in hot sauce.

Do you see that one event, putting pennies into hot sauce, started a chain of events that led to both external and internal changes? Bonus points for starting a club and bringing people from the community into the school. That demonstrated leadership and communication skills without blatantly writing that you’re a leader who knows how to communicate (It’s show, don’t tell).

Okay, what have you got? Doesn’t have to be big. The truth is it’s often the small things that provide big lessons. Where have you been called to adventure?

Dorothy learned home was where she wanted to be. Harry learned he had the courage to meet his fears.

Just to point this out in case you didn’t notice: I didn’t start with the essay. I wrote sentences, sixteen sentences, that formed a story foundation. From those sentences, I’ll add information and images to flesh out the essay. Truth is, with sixteen sentences I’m almost halfway finished. Colleges don’t want a book.

Last tip. Writing is rewriting. Once you’ve written sentences and added to them, let the paper rest. Come back and you’ll be surprised what you will want to add (and delete). Repeat three or four times to build your essay into one that stands out from the students who rushed through their writing. The application reader will know! And once you have this basic story, you will find you can shape it to fit most college application essays.

Why? They want personal stories about what makes you a hero.

Kira Janene Holt writes and blogs on college planning at www.CollegePlanCoach.com. Find her books on college planning at https://www.amazon.com/Kira-Janene-Holt/e/B006Q9ZCZ2/. Ask her questions or suggest blog topics at KiraJaneneHolt@gmail.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirajaneneholt