Travel and College Applications | 5 Tips to Make Your Essay Stand Out
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Travel and College Applications | 5 Tips to Make Your Essay Stand Out

Traveling during your high school years is a fantastic way to broaden your perspective and grow and mature as a person. We’re especially certain of that here at Rustic Pathways! Since travel is such a transformative experience, many students write about their adventures for their college admissions essays. This is a great idea, but it does not make you a shoe-in for your dream school.

It’s important to reflect on your time in a different state or overseas and think about how it has changed you in a unique way. Having an eye-opening travel experience is not exceptional in itself. It is the specifics—and better yet, actions you took as a result of that experience—that will set you apart from the rest of the applicant pool.

Here are some tips on how to write about your travel experiences for a college essay in a unique way.

1) Be authentic and tell your unique story
Don’t be afraid to put in details that tell your unique story. What moments have helped make you you? Even if they aren’t the cliche things that you think sound good to admissions officers, they will show your individuality.

2) Consider weaving your travel experience into a larger story
How does your travel experience fit in with your larger life story? Did it emphasize a passion or interest you already had? Look back and think about how you initially developed that passion, interest, or skill and tell that story, using your travel experience as one supporting part of it.

3) Pick one specific moment to focus on
Again and again admissions officers state that it is often the small things that are more interesting. Not only does writing about small moments show that you can find meaning beyond the big picture, but it will differentiate you.

4) Look deeper and take a different perspective
Take a moment to ask different questions of yourself about your trip. Think not only about how you grew personally while abroad, but consider how your actions and presence abroad are affecting the country and its people. If you took part in service, look beyond the obvious and show that you’re aware of the deeper significance or effects, positive or negative, of your efforts.

Questions to ask yourself about your Rustic Pathways program

  • What was the most powerful experience or moment you had on the program?
  • How did your program inspire you?
  • How did you change during or after your program? Was it an opinion you previously held that was changed? Your worldview? You, personally?
  • What goals have you created for yourself as a result of your Rustic Pathways experience?
  • What did you do on your program that was brand new for you? How did you feel doing it?
  • What advice would you give someone going on a Rustic Pathways program for the first time?
  • What stands out to you about Rustic Pathways?
  • What have you done since you’ve been home that relates back to your Rustic Pathways experience?

5) Tailor your essay to the college
Do some research on the college’s mission, what it values, and the kind of students it seeks out and accepts. You don’t want to create a cookie-cutter essay that checks all its boxes, but you should see if there is an authentic way you can build some of those issues into your essay.

Following these five tips should have you well on your way to crafting a stand-out essay. Once you’ve got a draft ready to go, read back through it and make sure it’s free from any of the following common blunders:

  • Refrain from saying anything along the lines of “Rustic Pathways changed my life.”
  • Be cautious of switching verb tenses. When you list different activities, make sure the verbs are all in the same 
  • Do not narrate your trip day by day. Talk about specific moments, people, or themes rather than re­cap your program’s itinerary.
  • Avoid the classic “mission trip” essay—as described by Rick Clark, Georgia Tech’s director of undergraduate admissions—a theme he’s tired of reading:

“’You know, we flew down to somewhere in Central America. And we got off the plane. It was really hot. And we got on the bus, and 20 miles outside of the village, our bus broke down. But we got picked up by like a chicken truck and taken into town. And then, over the course of my time there, I went expecting to help others. But it was, in fact, me who was changed.’ And even just when you first start reading that essay, you’re like, oh, here it comes again.”

Once you’ve read back through your essay and made any necessary adjustments, you’re almost at the finish line! Print it off and read a physical copy if you haven’t already; errors jump out at you better that way. Now make a few more copies and give them to people you trust to read over, such as your parents, teachers, and high school counselors.

Take their feedback and edits into account, then read, re-read, and re-read again your completed essay. Congratulations, if you made it this far you’ve certainly put together a fantastic college essay that will surely get you noticed by admissions counselors. Best of luck!

Need help choosing that incredible travel experience? Request a call from one our global travel experts. 

About the Author

Rachael Taft