How to Write the Villanova Application Essays 2018-2019
Villanova University is a private university located in Villanova, Pennsylvania. Villanova is ranked is ranked #49 in National Universities by US News.
Villanova is a Catholic institution, affiliated with the Augustinian order. The school’s 260-acre suburban campus is home to 6,966 undergraduate students plus about 4,000 additional graduate students.
Last year, Villanova accepted 43.5% of its applicants. The middle 50% of accepted students had SAT scores in the 1290-1470 range and ACT scores in the 30-32 range. The average high school GPA of the incoming freshman class in 2018 was 3.86 (on a 4.0 scale).
Villanova Application Essay Questions
Villanova requires just one supplemental essay for all applicants. The essay has no definite size limit, but must be one double-spaced page at a minimum. Applicants must choose one question to answer from a list of three questions.
The first option asserts that Villanova is “committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” and then asks the applicant how he/she will contribute to this environment.
The second option references Saint Augustine’s belief in the mind-heart connection and asks the applicant about “a time that your mind and heart were in conflict and how that was resolved.”
The last option asks the applicant to reflect on the phrase “each of us strengthens all of us” by sharing takeaways from a specific situation when he/she needed help.
Applicants for the Hovnanian Scholarship, which must be mailed in, must also write an essay in which they elaborate on the background of their parents.
How to Answer the Villanova Essay Questions 2018-2019
Choose one of the following: (minimum 1 page double-spaced)
We believe that all members of our community should be committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. How would you contribute to this at Villanova?
This is a classic “diversity and values” question. It’s also the hardest essay on this list since it asks you to talk about something you’ll do in the future, not something that you’ve already done. This prompt is also difficult because it’s quite abstract.
In asking this question, Villanova is, essentially trying to assess three things:
- What you understand diversity, equity and inclusion to be.
- If you value these things.
- How you put these values into action.
You don’t need to–and probably should not–simply answer these questions in linear order in your essay. However, you should make sure that you show a deep understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion, an appreciation of these values, and a willingness (now and in the future) to act on them. Ultimately, your essay should convey an overarching thesis about what your particular contribution to Villanova’s values will be. Briefly, let’s consider what to keep in mind with each of these three points.
There is no “right” answer to point (1), and you shouldn’t necessarily focus on defining these three words in order to show your understanding of these topics. Instead, you should demonstrate your grasp of these values through the examples and language you use. Keep in mind that, while there is no one “right” answer, there are wrong answers. If you show a shallow or myopic understanding over diversity (for example, a focused on one single kind of diversity) or a trite understanding of inclusion (focusing on how bad high school cliques can be, for example), the admissions committee might not think you really get what these values are all about.
There is a “right” answer when it comes to how you go about addressing point (2). You need to show that you do share these three values with Villanova. Note that there’s really no wiggle room here. You should not write your essay to argue against these values. Furthermore, you should do your best to weave together all three in your response, rather than focusing on just one or two of the values.
Though the prompt asks about how you “would contribute to these values at Villanova,” in order to establish (3)–that you can and will put these values into action–you must touch on your past experiences with these values. Your essay should be structured around concrete examples or plans that show both your past experiences living by these values and your plans for how you will continue to do so at Villanova.
Every essay will find a different balance between past examples and future plans. If you have not taken any concrete actions to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, your essay might be more focused on future plans. If you’ve already been very involved in activities promoting these values, your essay’s balance might tip a little more toward offering past examples.
Developing a thesis
First, let’s clarify: your thesis does not need to be a topic sentence at the end of your first paragraph. In fact, it might not be something you actually say at all in your essay. Instead, “thesis” here just means the overall takeaway that you want your reader to get from your essay. However, rather than just telling this thesis, you should show it.
Though the strongest versions of an essay like this often won’t include a straightforward thesis sentence, the strongest writers usually do conceptualize a thesis statement to guide them as they write. You should try to do the same. To do so, consider your own experiences with diversity, equity and inclusion.
Starting from your own unique experiences is the best way to generate a thesis–a core point–that will stand out from the crowd. Anyone can write an essay on why diversity, equity and inclusion are important. No one else can write an essay that uses your particular experiences to demonstrate your particular ability to further Villanova’s commitment to these values. So, what kind of thing can work as your thesis? What is specific enough? Here are a few examples:
- Are you someone who has actively promoted these things by advocating for disadvantaged people? If so, great! Your thesis could be something like “I will contribute to Villanova’s values by continuing to actively seek out ways to lift up peers from all backgrounds who are excluded or lack access to opportunities. Note that this sort of thesis touches on all three points of the prompt (diversity, equity and inclusion), and clearly creates a link between past actions and future actions.
- Are you someone who does not have much experience with diversity, perhaps because you come from a small, economically, racially and religiously heterogenous town? If so, you could lean into this background. Your thesis could be something like: “My experiences in an environment with limited diversity have given me a deep desire to engage with and learn from those who are different from me.” Then, in your essay, you would need to elaborate on how this sort of engagement would, ultimately, benefit your future college community and its diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Are you someone from an underrepresented minority group who has faced discrimination and struggled to gain equal access to the resources that many students take for granted? If so, you have direct experiences with what happens when a community does not value diversity, equity and inclusion. Your thesis might be something like: “Growing up in a low-income, majority-minor neighborhood, I saw the impacts of inequality, and exclusion firsthand. This experience has equipped me to promote these values by telling my story and by encouraging others to tell theirs.”
Once you have a clear thesis, you need to choose examples from your past, as well as ideas for what you’d like to do or how you hope to behave in the future, that will support that thesis. The key here is to draw a link from past to future.
Here are a few combinations of examples and future plans that could work well:
A writer focusing on her experience working at a local homeless shelter:
- The writer could open the essay with a vivid recollection of the first time she realized homelessness was such an issue in her city–a recognition which mobilized her to begin volunteering at a local shelter.
- Then, the writer could recount a particular interaction she had with a shelter guest, which made her recognize how people from diverse backgrounds can face homeless and exclusion from society–and also how certain individuals are at greater risk of homelessness than others because of society’s inequities.
- The writer could then focus on this understanding of both the common struggles all humans face and how social inequities exacerbate these struggles for certain people. The writer could explain that, with this understanding, she plans to get involved in initiatives at Villanova combat homelessness, support low-income students, and advocate for more equitable healthcare.
A writer focusing on her own background as an underrepresented minority:
- The writer could begin with vivid examples of moments of racism or other forms of discrimination that she experienced at a young age.
- Then, the writer could shift to an anecdote that demonstrates how he learned to cope with–and fight–discrimination.
- The writer could shift to explain various ways that he plans to share these strategies with his peers at Villanova–both to help other minorities and to raise awareness in the broader student body.
Note that a strong response could include a wide variety of past examples and future plans–you don’t necessarily need to use one central example. However, the strongest essays will not offer an exhaustive account of every way that the writer has shown his or her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Why? Well, firstly, it’s unlikely that you’ll give a vivid or engaging account of any one thing if you spread yourself too thin with a lot of examples. And, perhaps more importantly, this prompt asks about how you will contribute to these values at Villanova. While establishing your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through examples from your past are important, it should not be the sole focus of this essay.
Writing the Essay
Once you’ve figured out your thesis and chosen examples or specific future plans to support that thesis, you can begin writing. You should keep a couple things in mind as you write. These rules are generally true for all college essay writing (or even writing in general!), but some are particularly important here:
- Avoid clichés, particularly those about diversity, equity and inclusion (“there is strength in diversity,” “everyone deserves their fair share”). Using generic phrasing and clichés will make it seem like you have not reflected very deeply on these values.
- Whenever possible, show instead of telling. In an essay like this, it can be very tempting to make broad statements about the value of diversity, inclusion, or equity. It can also be tempting to just state your beliefs or thoughts on these matters. Instead, strive to use specific, vivid anecdotes to demonstrate that you are committed to these values.
Make sure that you disambiguate–and reflect on the relationships between–these values. It’s easy just to write the words “diversity, inclusion and equity” a bunch of times. But be sure that you take the time to really choose your words carefully.
- If you offer an example that shows the value of differences between people, then focus on diversity in your exposition of that example.
- If you offer an example of a time when you welcomed a stranger into a group, then that example is probably about inclusion.
- Then, when possible, try to relate these values. Does achieving diversity require inclusion? In order to be equitable, must a community be diverse and inclusive?
Saint Augustine believed in the essential connection between the mind and the heart. Tell us about a time that your mind and heart were in conflict and how that was resolved.
Some of the most difficult decisions that people–in college and beyond–must make often are so hard because they involve a conflict between heart and mind–between emotions and thoughts. As such, this prompt aims to examine your moral compass and your decision-making process. Villanova is seeking to understand who you are and what you value by getting a sense of how you make decisions in difficult situations.
There’s not really a “trick” here, and there’s no one “right” answer. In some situations, going with your mind might be the right choice; in others, going with your heart might be understandable or admirable. The key is to explain your reasoning and to show yourself as decisive yet thoughtful and committed to doing what is right even when it is difficult.
Choosing a basic structure for your essay should be relatively straightforward because the prompt clearly asks you to “tell the reader about a time…” This means that your first priority is to pick an example–a “time.” Then, make sure that you do four things clearly:
- Show what your mind “wanted.”
- Show what your heart “wanted.”
- Discuss your thought process.
- Demonstrate a resolution.
Of course, you can’t just include these four elements. There are some further important notes concerning the relationship between these four points you need to keep in mind:
- Crucially (1) and (2) must be clearly in conflict. Focusing on a time when you couldn’t decide between two fairly similar choices, or when you chose one thing for now and saved the other for later, are not really meaningfully distinct examples.
- Furthermore, make sure that the “things” that your mind and heart want are clearly linked to each of these features. For example, it might not make sense to say that your heart wanted to take an advanced math course, while your mind wanted to take a drama course–since typically more logic-based subjects appeal to the mind, while more art based subjects appeal to the heart.
- Don’t skim over point (3): You should not just move from stating the problem to its resolution. This question is really all about the processes and values that guide your decision-making, so take the time to really show what’s going on in your heart and mind!
Developing a thesis
Though your essay will be centered around a specific “time,” you still need to have a core thesis that you are trying to convey about who you are. However, if it’s easier for you to pick an example first and then think of a thesis, that’s fine–you can skip down to the “choosing a central example” section, and then return to this section to ensure that your thesis is on the right track.
Note that you don’t need a traditional thesis statement to be included in your final draft. Instead, this “thesis” is just the central idea that you want to ensure your reader understands about you. You’ll use this goal (making sure that your reader understands X, Y and Z about you) to stay focused as you write.
A strong thesis will concern what your values are, what type of decision maker you are, or how you approach the heart-mind connection. Depending on your experiences and characteristics, a good thesis for this essay could vary a lot. For example, these are all good candidates:
- My great strength is my ability to remain rational, even when I’m under a lot of emotional pressure.
- By listening to my own heart, I’ve found that I’m able to help others in a way that I could not if I simply listened to my mind.
- Facing a deep internal conflict humbled me and taught me to open up to others when I struggle to resolve an issue on my own.
Choosing a central example
An academic experience could be the center point of your response:
A writer could focus on a time when he had to choose between continuing band class (a cherished activity he had been involved in since elementary school) and taking an additional AP course.
- This sort of example could come off as a bit dry or stereotypical, so the writer would have to take care to really bring the essay to life by “showing not telling” about how much they love band–and how their rational faculties tell them that the AP course is more important in the long run.
- The writer could, ultimately, explain that he resolved this issue by choosing band, because he realized that his mind was, in fact, employing faulty reasoning: he does not need the prestige of just one more AP course, but instead it is rational to continue an activity that helps him relax and brings him joy.
- In an essay like this, the author could convey a thesis about rigorously using rationality–not only to reach a conclusion but also to interrogate his own biases and understand the value of his own emotions.
Personal experiences can make strong central anecdotes.
For example, a writer might focus on her experiences in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. Perhaps the writer had to choose between living with her father and with her mother. Her heart might have wanted to live with one parent–perhaps because of a more natural connection or nostalgic memories–while her mind might have been more pulled toward the other.
The writer could explain how, after agonizing over this decision for months, she eventually spoke to a close friend or family member about the pros and cons of each side, and ultimately was able to talk to her parents about dividing her time in an optimal way between their homes.
This sort of central story could convey a thesis about how the writer found that, by opening up to others, she was able to overcome what seemed to be an insurmountable conflict and find a resolution that appeased both her heart an mind.
Choosing an example: a few notes of caution
Though many of the most difficult heart-mind conflicts can arise from romantic relationships, you should avoid this topic for a college admissions essay. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, some readers–particularly older, more traditional admissions committee members–might find an essay on a romantic experience to be unprofessional or inappropriate. It’s not worth the risk of putting off a reader, even if you execute the essay in a mature and effective way.
Secondly, it’s hard to write about relationships in a mature and compelling way. Too often, writing about romantic trouble can come off as trite or whiny–even if it was truly a valuable learning experience. Don’t make this task harder than it needs to be by choosing such a thorny topic!
You should also avoid centering your essay on a long-ago experience. While it’s probable that you’ve faced powerful conflicts between heart and mind at various points throughout your life, a story from middle or elementary school will not adequately show who you are today and how you solve problems today. Try to pick an example from high school–or, even better, from the past two years.
Writing the essay
Once you’ve come up with a single anecdote to build your essay around–and once you know what thesis you want that anecdote to convey–you’ll be ready to start writing. Begin by considering your structure and coming up with a rough outline.
Is your story complex and heavily dependent on a particular sequence of events? If so, you might want to stick with a linear outline. Is there a really dynamic moment in the center of the story that you want to foreground? If so, you might start your essay in the middle of your anecdote and then build backward with context as necessary.
Regardless of the structure you use, strive to tell your story in a way that allows you to avoid summary and to “show not tell” by describing particular “moments” or experiences as much as possible. As you outline–and then write–each “moment,” think about how it builds your thesis. In other words, every sentence and paragraph should have a purpose, both to tell your story and to convey the central message you want to get across about what you value, how you make decisions–and, ultimately, who you are.
“Each of us strengthens all of us” is a concept that resonates deeply in the Villanova community. While this phrase may mean many different things, one aspect is that Villanovans rely on each other. Share a situation when you have needed help and what you have taken away from this experience.
Much like the second option, this option asks you to share a particular situation. This automatically allows you to narrow your focus. No matter what else you do, you’ll need to think of an example of a time when you needed help.
But what’s the underlying point of this prompt? Well, first consider the context. Modern society–particularly American society–places a lot of value on independence and self-reliance. Villanova is, essentially, asking you to buck this trend–or at least to show that you are not so dogmatically individualistic and independent that you miss the value of community and mutual reliance.
The “what you have taken away…” part of this prompt is, by far, the trickiest part. This is because it’s really easy to lapse into essentially restating the first part of the prompt. However, you should avoid simply asserting something like “I learned the value of relying on other people,” or “I learned the strength of community.”
Instead, try to convey a nuanced thesis that demonstrates something specific about who you are and what you will bring to Villanova.
Picking a Central Example
Because this prompt is all about what you learned from an experience, it’s best to pick the experience before coming up with your thesis. To brainstorm, start by considering: What is the most memorable time someone helped you? When did a helping hand really make an impression on you? When did you feel supported or helped by your community?
Once you’ve found an example that feels really meaningful, ask: What was meaningful about this experience, beyond just accomplishing the thing you needed help with? What did it show me about myself, my community, or the world more broadly? If these questions only yield superficial answers, then you might need to keep brainstorming for a stronger “situation.” You should also avoid the clichéd examples (overcoming your pride and asking for help with a hard math assignment, for example, fits a somewhat overused archetype), unless you have an original spin to add to a classic trope.
Strong central examples for this essay could be focused on help you received from an individual or from a group, from a close friend or from a stranger. Nevertheless, your example should, ideally, link to the idea of community in some way, since the idea of community is emphasized in the prompt’s phrasing.
So, what kinds of examples could work?
A writer could describe her struggle to learn to improvise jazz piano. The writer could explain that she thought she had to develop her own style on her own musical journey, and so resisted reaching out for tips and specific advice. However, the writer could describe a turning point–perhaps a moment when she was really inspired by another musician–where she recognized that she could learn from others and still preserve her individuality as an artist.
- An essay on a topic like this could, potentially, convey a powerful thesis about how the writer realized how relying on others can allow an individual to find their individuality–rather than weakening it.
An applicant could write an essay on a time when he asked his father–who had always been quite strict and distant–for advice on handling a conflict with a friend. The writer might explain that he asked his father for advice not because he wanted to, but because he had no one else to turn to. Then, the writer could show how opening up to his father paved the way for him to deepen his relationship with his dad.
- This essay’s thesis wouldn’t necessarily be about solving the interpersonal conflict–that might feel too petty and gossipy. Instead, the main “point” that the essay would convey would be that the writer found that by asking for help, he got a lot more than just help; he learned that when a person is vulnerable with another person, stronger and closer relationships can flourish.
An applicant could write an essay on moving to a new city, where they didn’t know anyone. The writer could explain how, after months of loneliness, she decided to leave an advertisement for a book club in a local library. Though this might have seemed like an activity, it was actually a cry for help–for friends. The writer could depict how she made many friends and found a supportive community of like-minded people–many of whom were lonely, too, but hadn’t yet found a way to ask for help or take action.
- This essay’s thesis could focus on how the writer has recognized that by asking for help she can break through even the darkest isolation–and, potentially, help others who are not yet ready to ask for help themselves. how she is determined to reach out and ask for help, because she knows that if she speaks up, she might benefit not only herself but also others–and even a whole community.
Developing a Thesis
The examples above already include theses, so by this point, you might have some sense of what kind of thesis would work for this essay! Your thesis should, fundamentally, be an answer to the question “What did you learn from the experience of asking someone else for help?”
As noted above, your thesis should not necessarily appear in your final draft–it’s just a guiding principle for you as you write. And it’s the thing that you want to be sure the admissions committee understands about you when they finish your essay.
Even if you already have a sense of what your thesis will be (just from the “situation” you chose), it’s a good idea to articulate it for yourself so that you can check your work and ensure that your thesis really comes across.
There are three main types of theses that you might have (though of course, your thesis might fall somewhere in between):
- You learned something about yourself.
- You learned something interpersonal (about relating to others, about your community, etc).
- You learned something about the world.
Keep in mind that because the prompt is, in a sense, all about community, it’s a good idea to tie in community–even if you’re mostly focused on yourself or on a broader fact you realized. For example:
A writer might have a thesis about how he discovered the power of humility when he asked for help after trying to do a difficult task alone.
- This thesis is a sort of hybrid of (1) and (3) since humility is a personal trait, but it can also be seen as a universal value.
- The writer could tie this to community, too, by being sure to emphasize how his community (the people who helped him) really showed him this value, or perhaps by talking about how others’ accomplishments and knowledge humbled him.
Caution should be taken with theses that are purely focused on “facts” about the world. These sorts of theses are typically those that focus on universal values or discoveries. Such theses can overgeneralize or come off as presumptuous (if you are making really broad assertions about what is right or how the world is). For example, this would be a suboptimal thesis:
Consider an applicant who wrote an essay on asking for help from all her friends and acquaintances when she broke her leg. This applicant could try to convey a thesis about how this experience showed her that human beings are fundamentally kind and moral.
- This sort of thesis is very broad, and almost certainly could not be properly defended in an essay of a few pages (and certainly, defending this thesis would be hard to do in a personally insightful way). Furthermore, this basically a superficial resolution to what is a very long-standing debate in philosophy and theology.
- In general, you should not try to answer “big questions” (about human nature, consciousness, the fundamental laws of nature, large-scale political debates, etc.) in an essay like this. You will likely not make a very compelling argument, and you will likely come off as a little arrogant: scholars have devoted their lives to these questions–only someone lacking humility would presume to answer one of them in a college essay!
Luckily, an overly-general thesis can be salvaged! For example, the above thesis could be reworked if the writer were to reflect more on her own worldview and how it shifted:
- The same writer in the above example could instead focus on a change over time in her own perspective. Her thesis could be that, before breaking her leg, she was somewhat guarded and skeptical about people’s intentions; now, she is far more open and recognizes that it is more productive to engage with others with positive expectations.
Writing the essay
Once you’ve chosen your “situation” and ironed out your thesis, it’s time to consider you will actually write the essay.
Begin by outlining your planned draft. As you construct your outline, consider what structure will best fit the anecdote that lies at the heart of your essay. Here are the main components that you need to include in your essay (and a few tips on how to execute these elements):
Any basic context that the reader will need to understand the story.
- Some examples of elements that you might need to include: when this situation occurred, where it occurred, mindset/attitude, why you needed help, and the other characters in your story. Note that not all essays will need to elaborate on all these points!
- In general, context should be kept to a bare minimum.
- Furthermore, you should strive to “show” your context instead of just “telling” it (that is, weave it into your story instead of spending a whole sentence or paragraph giving background details).
The actual moment when you asked for help.
- This can be narrated in a number of ways–with actual dialogue, with vivid memories, with a dive into your feelings as you asked for help.
- The key is to not just assert that you asked for help, but rather to provide personal insight by showing the reader your thoughts and feelings as you did so.
What you learned from that experience.
- Again, the most important rule to keep in mind here is to “show not tell.” Do not simply write “I learned XYZ.”
- Instead, try to describe your actions, thoughts, or behaviors in a way that demonstrates what you learned.
- Be sure that this learning experience clearly follows from the example of a time that you asked for help–this is where your thesis comes in handy! If you have a strong thesis (linking asking for help and what you learned), checking to see if this component of your essay conveys your thesis will help you stay focused.
The exact order that you should put these components in can vary greatly. Some phenomenal essays begin right “in the moment”; the writer then provides an explanation of the context in later paragraphs. Other essays follow a fairly linear pattern. Still, others might be constructed with very little context, stringing a series of “moments” together.
The key is to find the structure that fits your story. If the moment where you ask for help requires a lot of “set up”–for example, if it took you a long time to ask for help, and this long process is central to your thesis–then your essay might need to follow a fairly linear structure, beginning with exposition and context.
Once you’ve established your structure, you can begin writing!
For Hovnanian Scholarship applicants only:
Elaborate on the background of your parents (Mail-in application to Villanova)
The Hovnanian Scholarship is a scholarship established by the Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Foundation to provide educational support to students of Armenian descent. If you do not fit this profile, then you should not apply for the scholarship.
This essay’s topic is clearly influenced by the Hovnanian Scholarship’s focus: prospective students’ Armenian heritage. If you have two parents of Armenian descent, then this essay should focus on both of them. If one of your parents is of Armenian descent and the other is not, this essay should focus primarily on the parent of Armenian descent–though it is fine to still touch on the background of your non-Armenian parent.
An essay like this is very open. You should avoid a fairly systematic run-down of your parents’ birthplaces, educational histories, employment experiences, and various residences. Instead, you should try to identify particular stories about your parents that are compelling and to you, exemplify the facts about their background that have most shaped you.
The key to an essay about your family–or anyone besides you–is to make sure you still show the reader a lot about you. This is because you are the college applicant. As such, a great access point to a story about your parents’ backgrounds could be memories of stories they told you or experiences you had together that can segue into a more factual discussion of their backgrounds.
If you are very connected to your Armenian cultural heritage, a strong strategy can also be to center your essay around family stories your parents have shared with you, as well as memories of cultural activities that you’ve done together.
As you begin to brainstorm and draft, you might wonder: What counts as “background”? Can I talk about my great-great grandparents? My aunts and uncles? In short, the answer is yes. However, make sure that every story or example you give can be traced through your parents back to you.
Articulating a Thesis
Every essay needs a thesis–even if it is not something you explicitly state in the final draft, you should think of this thesis as the guiding principle for your writing, and as the thing that you want your reader to understand when they finish the essay.
In this essay, your thesis should be something that relates to three things: who you are, who your parents are, and your Armenian heritage.
For example, a strong thesis could be:
- My grandparents’ harrowing experiences escaping Armenia shaped my parents’ upbringing, making them independent and strong, yet also very community- and family-oriented. They have passed these values on to me.
- My father and mother both struggled to put themselves through school, growing up as the children of immigrants. Yet, even through hardship, they preserved their Armenian traditions and culture, and have shared those with me.
If you are not particularly connected to your Armenian heritage, you could also write a strong thesis that explains why your parents did not prioritize this so much (perhaps they have very busy careers, or were intent on assimilating), and then pivots to focus on why you would like to connect more with this part of you and your parents’ background.
Drafting your essay
This essay has no official word limit, and, as we’ve discussed, the prompt is very open. This could leave you staring at a blank document for a long time! Luckily, a quick brainstorming session can address this problem. Grab your thesis, and ask yourself:
- What memories from my childhood really show the reader elements of this thesis?
- What stories have my parents told me that illustrate my thesis?
- What memorable ways have I connected with my Armenian heritage over the years?
- What experiences have most shaped who my parents are?
- Which of my parents’ experiences have had the most impact on me?
As you sift through your answers to these questions, look for strong, dynamic “moments” or anecdotes that you can use as the backbone of your essay. Each anecdote should support a different part of your thesis–avoid repetitive stories.
For example, consider a writer whose thesis is: “My grandparents’ harrowing experiences escaping Armenia shaped my parents’ upbringing, making them independent and strong, yet also very community- and family-oriented. They have passed these values on to me.”
A good essay could involve a recounting of a family story about the writer’s grandparents, which shows the difficulties they faced; a story about one of the writer’s parents that shows that parent’s independence and strength; a story about the other parent’s community and family values, and then a brief anecdote through which the author demonstrates that she, too, has these values–and lives by them.
- Note that in this example each anecdote fulfills a different purpose, supporting or “showing” a different part of the writer’s thesis.
- Note that the author follows a logical progression, in this case by starting with the older generations of her family and then working up to present-day.
A poor essay attempting to convey a similar thesis might include three anecdotes about stories the writer’s parents used to tell her about their the writer’s grandparents. Each of these stories might focus on how much the grandparents struggled–and how they persevered.
- While each of these anecdotes is probably very powerful, they all cover more or less the same material. In other words, all these examples support the same part of the writer’s thesis.
- Even if the author uses summary or straightforward exposition to convey the other points of the thesis, the examples will still be repetitive. Moreover, the essay will feel unbalanced, since most of the thesis is “told not shown,” while the examples all cluster around proving one point.
Once you’ve chosen your anecdotes, consider how to best organize them so that they progress toward your thesis. For example, if your thesis is about how a certain experience enabled your parents to be independent and kind, then it will usually make sense to describe that experience before sharing an anecdote that demonstrates your parents’ kindness or independence.
After you’ve decided on the organization of your anecdotes, you’ll be ready to start writing. As you write, keep the purpose of this essay in mind. You should highlight your Armenian heritage by focusing on your parents’ stories, and how their stories have shaped you. If you find yourself including extraneous details (your parents’ college experiences, first jobs, etc), take a pause and consider them carefully. If they seem to be part of a tangent that doesn’t really relate to your thesis, cut them. However, details that are not obviously related to your Armenian heritage can be OK–as long you need those details to set the scene and build toward your thesis.
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