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  • Mike Demilio

Map Your Mind

Early in the brainstorming process, mind maps are a perfect way to organize your thoughts.

First, a word of caution: mind maps can be a rabbit hole. There is a lot of material out there on them and I don't want to create more work for you.

So please keep in mind that the mission is to create the very best personal statement for your college application, not the perfect mind map.

Don't download any software or join a mind-mapping group on social media. Keep it simple. First, find a pencil and a piece of paper.

Now, draw a circle in the center of the page. Inside that circle, put a key word or concept. It could be the core value closest to your heart (e.g., "honesty").

It could be an experience that was deeply meaningful or life-changing (e.g., "moved away from my hometown") or whatever theme or story idea you'd like to explore for your essay.

Just pick one. Next, draw a few spokes coming off of that center circle that connect to other circles, then put down your pencil.

Remember that you are not writing or even outlining your essay yet. You're just letting thoughts and images wander from your mind to the page.

Close your eyes and think of things that connect to that central theme. Keep it loose. Don't worry about building an argument. The more free your thoughts are right now, the better.

If your map is centered on a value, think of scenes or moments when you lived it. Random is good. No idea is too small at this point.

Fill up your first set of circles with those ideas. Remember, this is an exploration, not an organization. The idea is to get as much onto the page as you can.

Once you're done, sit back and review it. Notice how some ideas naturally connect to others. Maybe mark those ideas with color-coded stars.

If nothing looks promising as an essay topic, try another map. But if one seems like an option you'd like to explore, move it to the center.

Now do a map around that. Maybe it'll work, or maybe you'll throw it out and start over again. Mind maps are completely disposable, but also indispensable.

They're a great way to capture the random thoughts that sometimes lead to the most creative essays. You may only pick one nugget from an entire mind map, but that one could be pure gold.


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