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Writing an Autobiography for a College Application

written by: Keren Perles•edited by: Amanda Grove•updated: 6/23/2010

Many college applications request an autobiography, but it shouldn't read like most of the autobiographies you've read. In order to stand out from the crowd, you'll need to make your autobiography unique and interesting.

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    Don’t Just Expand Your Resume

    When you’re considering how to write an autobiography for a college application, you may think about other autobiographies that you’ve read. Typical autobiographies might begin with the day you were born, who your parents and other family members are, and what your childhood was like. This is not the direction you should take when writing an autobiography for a college application. Instead, you’ll need to choose a focus to build your essay around.

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    Choose a Focus

    Think about one aspect of your life that has affected you more than anything else. For example, have changes in your family structure over the years (e.g., divorce, adoption, remarried parent, additional siblings) affected you enormously? Can you divide your life into several sections based on two or three life-changing episodes? Has a friend, a mentor, or an experience truly changed the course of your life? Have your career aspirations evolved from childhood? Any of these ideas could turn into the focus of your paper.

    You’ll want to make sure that your focus has specific situations or people that you can describe in your essay. It should also span most of your life, if possible. Your focus should also show some way that you’ve grown and changed for the better, without focusing too much on negative aspects of your personality or of the situation.

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    Catch the Reader’s Attention from the Start

    Begin your autobiography with an attention grabber. This may be a startling statement (“I spent the most glorious moments of my life doing important work with my grandfather: shoveling dung."), a thought-provoking question (“Why do people often overlook their most important strengths until they lose them?"), or a retelling of an interesting experience. Develop this attention grabber briefly in your first paragraph, and then add a transition to take the reader into the rest of your paper.

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    Drafting the Body

    The body of your autobiography should show how you have grown or changed over the years. It should bring you from one bookend of your essay (the introduction) to the other (the conclusion), showing any causal relationships along the way. Make sure to include transitions in your essay so that it flows smoothly. Many applicants may draft the perfect paragraphs for their autobiographies but neglect to show how all of the paragraphs are connected.

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    The Other Bookend: Your Conclusion

    Keep in mind that the second bookend of your autobiography, your conclusion, is the last part that your reader will see. You’ll want it to finish off your essay with a powerful statement that ties together your entire college application essay. To do this, you’ll want to somehow refer back to your introduction if possible, showing how your essay has come full circle. For example, you might reexamine the question that you asked at the beginning of your paper or more deeply discuss the interesting experience that you mentioned there.

    Last be sure to read and re-read your autobiography. Also ask a family member or friend to listen as you read it aloud. These tips on how to write an autobiography for a college application can help you put together the perfect application essay.

Applying to College

Applying to college can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences you'll ever go through. This series examines different parts of the college application process, including how to write a stellar college essay and how to ace a college interview.
  1. Writing an Autobiography for a College Application
  2. Tips and Sample Prompts for Writing the Perfect College Essay
  3. Competitiveness in College Admissions: Is It Tougher to Get in Than It Used to Be?