Step 3: Focus on Theme

Every personal essay has a theme: a central idea that keeps the story focused. Your theme should answer two important questions: 1) What happened? and 2) Why does it matter? In other words, why are you telling this story? What do you want admissions officers to know about you that they couldn’t learn from the rest of your application?

To begin Step 3, watch the Video Intro. When you are done, continue reading to learn more about this step. Select Try It Now for an exercise to help you clarify your essay’s theme.

Note: the video tells you to “Click Read It.” There is no click! Just read the page.

Play Video

Once you have a topic, your essay needs a theme.

Every personal essay is built around a theme, which addresses two crucial questions: 1) What happened? and 2) Why does it matter?

While it is unlikely to show up word-for-word in your essay, the theme provides the underlying explanation for why you chose your topic. 

Before you start writing a draft, make sure you can answer these questions:

  • Why is this topic or experience important to me?
  • Why did I choose it for my essay?
  • What does it teach readers about me?
  • What will admissions officers know about me after reading my essay that they didn’t know before?
  • And why do I want them to know this about me?

Try It: Focus on Theme

Estimated time to complete this writing task: 20 minutes

Try It: Focus on Theme

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