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6 Tips for Incorporating Travel Experiences in College Application Essays

studentbeach2The final weeks of school are upon us.  Teachers across the nation are wrapping up curriculum and even the most fastidious students are starting to zone out and dream of the weeks of summer vacation that lie ahead.  

As a high school English teacher, this time of year always proved to be a challenging time for me in regards to student engagement.  And the best way I’ve found to fight low engagement is to bring opportunities for authentic writing into the classroom.

What is likely the most high-stakes, authentic piece of writing for most college-bound students?  

Their college application essays.  

So at this point in May, I always had my students write a reflective but short, narrative piece about lessons learned while traveling (either on a school trip or on a personal trip). 


And to entice them, I would dangle the carrot: most often these essays can be re-used as their college application essay, particularly if the student is applying to school using the Common Application.  

The Common Application (or the “Common App”)  is an undergraduate college admission application that applicants may use one single application in order to apply to any of more than 800 member colleges and universities.  As part of their application, students must respond to one of six prompts.

Below are each of the Common App prompts.  After the prompts, I have made some suggestions of how students can integrate their travel experiences into their responses:


1.  Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

TIP:  This would be a good opportunity for students who have an interest in travel to speak about why travel is so meaningful to them.  Encourage students to tell a story that illustrates the reason why travel is such a significant part of their lives.


2.  The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

TIP:  Colleges love to see how students respond to being outside their comfort zones and tackle challenges, as it is an experience many college freshmen will have.  Suggest that students tell a story about how they have overcome a challenge while traveling and how they learned from the experience.


3.  Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

TIP:  If traveling does anything for students, it opens them up to experiences, places, and people that are different from them.  Have students reflect on how they grew from that experience.


4.  Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Hmm.  It may be difficult to integrate travel into this prompt.  But we’d love to hear how your students attempt it!


5.  Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

TIP:  Certainly there are many experiences on a class trip or personal trip that lead to personal growth in our students - have students share the story of this experience and the growth that came from it.


6.  Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

TIP:  Not all who wander are lost, right?  For those students passionate about travel and learning more about the world around them, this prompt is perfect.


These are just a few tips on how to encourage students to incorporate their travel experiences into their college application essays.  It's a win-win assignment: students are happy come August when they start putting together their college applications that they at least have a draft of an essay to work with and parents are happy that their kids have a jump start on the oft-avoided essay.

Next week, check back on the blog for my list of tips on crafting a strong application essay. 


Topics: Curriculum standards and student travel, Benefits of Student Travel

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