Show, Don’t Tell

Embedded in your college essay should be a story that vividly SHOWS the answer to your chosen prompt. You’re providing the admissions officers with a glimpse into who you are, a window into your experience that reveals your motivations, inspirations, passions, and way of thinking. At least a few paragraphs of your essay should read like a compelling story.

If you feel like your essay is doing more telling than showing, try highlighting the two or three most important lines in your essay. Then, for each of these lines, expand what you’re currently saying in one sentence into a full paragraph that vividly reveals your experience.

In the below example, the “Telling” section summarizes an event, while the “Showing” section expands those two sentences into two full paragraphs. The blue paragraph is the expanded version of the blue sentence, while the red paragraph is the expanded version of the red sentence.


The only pets I have ever had are gerbils, which I got when I was 12 years old.  I researched gerbils and other types of animals, wrote a two-page proposal and finally convinced my parents that getting a pet was a good idea.


Like many other children, I wanted a pet when I was a child.  Like many other parents, mine worried that I would forget to care for a pet, or grow tired of it after a few weeks.  They always said no.  By the time I was in sixth grade, I had scaled down my requests from dogs and cats to hamsters and gerbils.  My dad said maybe, but on one condition.  I would have to prove my readiness with thorough research and sound financial planning.

The requirements were as follows: a two page proposal, handwritten, to include the intended type of pet, basic facts about the animal, the care required to keep it healthy, the approximate monthly cost of caring for it, and a bibliography of at least three sources, cited correctly.  I am uncertain whether my father thought I was capable of following through on this task, or if he thought he was setting the bar too high for his pre-adolescent daughter to succeed.  But I followed through on my side of the bargain, and my parents followed through on theirs.  I spent several afternoons at the town library and submitted my report in a binder.  I put aside $50 for potential veterinary visits, put $32 in my pocket for six months of food and the gerbils themselves, and asked mom and dad for a ride to the pet store.  I was soon the proud owner of Zach and Clyde, two Mongolian gerbils.

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