Nail the Questbridge Biographical Essay

Nail the Questbridge Biographical Essay
Copyright Roxanne Ocampo 2017

If you are working on your Questbridge “National College Match” essays, you will have encountered the “Biographical Essay.”  Many students fumble at this point because they are confused about what to write, how to write it, and how to make it exceptional.  ¡No te preocupes!  Quetzal Mama’s got your back.  Follow the proven strategies below to create a winning essay.

First, read the prompt carefully.  Fortunately, the Biographical Essay prompt is very direct and straightforward.  Read the prompt below, and note they are asking you to respond to five (5) specific questions:

We are interested in learning more about you and the context in which you have grown up, formed your aspirations and accomplished your academic successes. Please describe the factors and challenges that have most shaped your personal life and aspirations. How have these factors caused you to grow?

            So, you’ve read the prompt and discerned the five questions.  However, we both know it cannot be that simple, ¿verdad?  Of course not.  The clever and astute student will go beyond the simple Q&A tactic, and contemplate what they are really asking.  Why not ask Questbridge directly?  Sounds too easy?  It’s not – they hand you the answer right on their webpage:

Most finalists' essays show evidence of strong writing ability, as well as intellectual spark, determination, and altruism.

            Now, the tricky part will be to incorporate the rubric above and answer the prompt.  Before you begin implementing rhetorical devices and building a sophisticated theme, you will want to keep it simple.  The first thing you will do is sketch an outline.  You will write down your “story” in an informal way, structuring it by focusing on the following:

1.     Describe how you grew up – where did you reside (geographically), what dynamics shaped your life such as socioeconomic or political factors, and did you experience extenuating factors?  Your simple response might look like this:  “I grew up in Barrio Logan, the home of Chicano Park in San Diego, California.”  Then, elaborate on what that environment was like, what forces impacted your community, and how did this experience influence and shape your life growing up?

2.     Tell them what specific challenges impacted your life thus far.  For example,maybe your high school did not have a comprehensive Advanced Placement (AP) program.   Perhaps your family works in the agricultural fields, and you were forced to move several times to follow the crop seasons (impacting the quality and quantity of your academic life)?  Being the first in your family to attend college is also an extenuating factor that should not be overlooked.

3.     Specifically state your academic accomplishments and aspirations, and how the first two items have influenced your goals.  Your answer should be technically accurate, and concise.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to impress the reader(s) by overstating goals.  For example, if your major is Biological Sciences, say that!  Steer away from overly ambitious statements like, “I intend to major in Human Biology with a concentration in Neurobiology, and double-major in Public Health, while conducting secondary research in Molecular & Cell Biology, and pursuing an Honors Distinction upon graduation.”  While it is commendable that you have lofty aspirations, you want your goals to sound realistic and achievable.

4.     Finally, tell them what you learned from the above experiences, challenges, and set-backs, and how you will bring your newfound [talents, wisdom, energies, skills, attitude, etc.] to your future undergraduate community.  The golden number seems to be “3” when stating your answer to this question.  For example, “From my experiences, setbacks, and challenges, I learned three important facts.”

Now that you've created a unique story to help them “learn more about you," you need to move on to the next set of instructions:  “. . . show evidence of strong writing ability, as well as intellectual spark, determination, and altruism.” 

Additional Tips!

Tip #1:  Don't forget the 500 word limit.

Tip #2:  You need a killer introduction.  I recommend my students begin their introductory paragraph by telling a story, asking a question, or using a quote.  Any of these introductory devices will allow you to introduce your topic, and effortlessly flow to the next section.  Don't get CHEESY!  To avoid this common mistake, read Section 4 "Blunders to Avoid."

Tip #3:  Better back that thing up!  You must provide evidence to claims you made in your introductory paragraph.  For example, if you said that growing up in a barrio created educational challenges, then tell them exactly what those challenges were!  When citing examples, the magical rule seems to be 3.  Learn more about the Magical Power of 3 here.

Tip #4:  If your essay content begins to sound too negative or gloomy, flip it!  Read this article on how to flip a negative into a positive essay.

Tip #5: After you created your draft version, identify your “Reader Panel" (team of readers). This might be your AP or IB English teacher, a local English Instructor at a Community College, or a college admissions coach.  Ask your Panel to review your essay to ensure it is well written, covers all of the criteria, represents exceptional writing skills, and has a positive and inspirational tone.

            If you follow the above guidelines, you will “nail” the Biographical Essay.  Don’t forget, the National College Match application is due 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on September 27, 2017.
Good luck!

Want to know more about essay writing tips, or strategies to NAIL your college applications?  See Quetzal Mama's 4 books for students on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  

Posted September 15th, 2013 by Quetzal Mama

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