Just how to Record Scratch Your College App Essay Stories

If you’ve done your homework on the best way to write a effective college application essay, you probably know the place to start is with your real-life stories.

The idea is to find moments, incidents and experiences from your past that illustrate a larger point you wish to make about yourself in your essay.

Often, the best place to generally share an engaging mini-story ( also called an anecdote) are at the very start of your piece.

The anecdote (mini-story) serves to ‘hook’ or grab your reader’s interest at the start—something you always want in a standout application essay.

Nonetheless, once you share that little moment, incident or mini-story (anecdote) that you have plucked out of time with little to no introduction, where do you really go after that first paragraph or two?

When working with students on making use of this approach in personal essays, I advise them to take the reader back again to the beginning and give some context towards the moment they described into the anecdotal introduction.


Recently, a student I was working together with helped me discover a new solution to explain this ‘backgrounding’ of the anecdote.

When I told him about the means of rewinding that moment to describe the broader context of what it meant, he said, ‘Oh, you imply it’s like in a movie after anything big happens, and additionally they stop the action by way of a record scratch or freeze the frame, and someone says, ‘Oh! You are probably wondering how I got here?’

Exactly! I told him.

Watch This Clip to See Record Scratch in Action

In movies from the ’80s and ’90s, and even earlier, a cliche trope was to use what’s called the ‘Record Scratch’ or ‘Freeze Frame’ after the initial exciting moment (often plucked from the middle of the storyline; a device described in writing circles as en media res) to indicate the shift back again to the beginning of the story’s timeline to explain how it all started.

I know all this writing lingo and terminology can start to sound confusing. But it’s actually really simple:

Start a personal, narrative-style essay by retelling something that happened for your requirements, in a paragraph or two at the most ( called an anecdote).

Use fiction-writing techniques, such as for example setting the scene with a few sensory details and including a line of dialogue (someone saying anything.) Watch my short video as to how to Write an Anecdote!https://123helpme.me/how-to-write-racism-thesis-statement/

The moment or incident will only have lasted over the course of a few minutes.

There is little to no build-up or explanation; you start as close towards the essential point of action as possible.

Then, into the following paragraph, you shift gears (Can you hear the needle scratch a vinyl record the Record Scratch?) and take the reader back to ‘It all started when….’

In this paragraph you explain the context and meaning of that moment or incident you started with as an anecdote.

Get it?

Here’s how it works in a personal essay:

  1. Anecdote that recounts something that happened for your requirements
  2. Record Scratch: Shift BACK IN TIME so you can start at the beginning and explain what it means.

3. You then continue with your essay to explore, examine, analyze, reflect upon more about that thing that happened and how it reveals something on how you will be, your personality and character.

4. a big area of the rest of the essay is more introspective, where you dig deeper to think about and share what you learned about yourself in the process of whatever happened.

5. Wrap it up.

I think you will get this process if you read some examples.

Here are the starts of FIVE sample essays from my collection, Heavenly Essays, written mainly by former students which used this approach. I identified the ANECDOTE and RECORD SCRATCH/BACKGROUND in red text:

Brock CsiraLaguna Beach, CAUniversity of California, Berkeley, CA

Hang Ups

ANECDOTE: Dangling about 30 feet above the ground, I looked down regarding the entire area park featuring its rolling hills, vibrant green grass, and multiple tall eucalyptus trees. Buckled tightly in my own fresh Diamond Mountain climbing harness, I admired my handiwork.

My old blue-and-black braided climbing rope thrown over a branch held me aloft, while a slipknot I tied while hoisting myself up prevented my descent. After a few minutes, I decided to return towards the ground, but realized my knot grew too tight for me to untie. I was stuck.


BACKGROUND: Ever since my dad taught me the Bowline in second class, the intricacy of knots has fascinated me. I spent hours mastering the craft, reading every knot book and internet site I could get my hands on. All my knots generally came in handy. In 8th class, I won a competition into the Boy Scouts by way of a square knot, beating the instructor which taught an alternative knot that took longer to tie. A couple years later, I rescued my brother’s pickup out of the mud with the unbreakable loop of the Bow Line during one of our off-road adventures. I even returned a stranded rock climber’s lifeline by tying a Sheep’s Bend between a small piece of paracord and his climbing rope. …

Brooks JohnsonLaguna Beach, CALoyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA

Call Me Crazy

ANECDOTE: After two hours of intense racing regarding the open water, we thought our day was done. Instead, our coach ordered us to race another five miles home, rowing as hard as when we came. Stuck the harbor with seven other teammates into the crew watercraft, there was clearly nowhere to full cover up.

‘Give me a reason to call 911,’ coach yelled. Drained and exhausted, I could feel my eyes needs to close. Tunnel vision set in. For a few moments, I blacked out.

I had been here before. This was the main point where I had to push my body to accomplish the contrary of what my brain wanted me to do: Go even harder. I focused on the coxswain yelling at me, and hoped my adrenaline wouldn’t wear off. …



I first joined the team as being a freshman, I only knew a little about this sport. My older cousin warned me about the ridiculous hours and tough workouts. The one thing no one told me, though, is that to row crew you had to be a little crazy. It’s not the mentally insane variety of crazy, but the type where you force yourself to disregard all logic and reason and push yourself to carry on.

Duncan LyndLaguna Beach, CACalifornia State University, Long Beach, CA

A Small World

ANECDOTE: While grabbing lunch between games at a water polo tournament, I noticed one of my new teammates rarely looked me into the eye. In place of taking the empty seat next in my opinion, he opted to sit across the table. Even when I tried to start a conversation with him, he only looked down, and mumbled, ‘Oh, hey,’ and stepped away.


BACKGOUND: This sort of cold-shoulder treatment wasn’t new to me. I’m a big guy. In bare feet, I’m about 6 feet 7 inches tall, and I’m pushing 300 pounds. Yes, it can be a pain. I bump my head going right through doorways, I don’t fit in most mid-size cars, and I can barely squeeze into most classroom desks. But I understand that the world is made for average-sized men and women, and I love to think I’m above average. A very important factor, nonetheless, is hard for me to take: People who don’t know me assume I’m mean. …

Gabrielle Mark BachouaSan Diego, CAUniversity of California, Davis, CA

Leaping Dancer

ANECDOTE: As my mom backs out of our driveway, I glance at the back seats to make sure my basketball gear is there, along with my schoolbooks, phone charger, and beat-up copy of Catch- 22. We slowly wind through my area and over about a half dozen speed bumps, then pull onto the highway heading south with the other Sunday traffic.

I sit back and watch the familiar landmarks—the large Denny’s sign with the missing ‘N,’ the short stretch of undeveloped land, the Shell billboard that meant we were very nearly there—flash past my window.


BACKGROUND: I’ve made this 20-mile trip between my parents’ homes during the last decade, four times a week, ever simply because they divorced when I was seven. I must have taken it greater than a thousand times. Sometimes I dreaded getting into that car, and resented my parents for putting my older sibling and I through the circular logic that moving us to and fro is going to make our everyday lives normal because we see each parent often, but moving forward and backward isn’t normal, unless they make it normal, which isn’t normal. Now i am aware it is practical because normal isn’t ideal, normal is the unexpected and the crazy and the unforgiving. …

Reece BartonLaguna BeachNew York University, New York, NY

Trash Talk

ANECDOTE: On our solution to get fish tacos, about eight blocks from my house, I spotted the sign out of the place of my eye. ‘Stop the car!’ I shouted. Blake slammed regarding the brakes and threw the car into reverse. My eyes hadn’t deceived me, the hand- written sign read: ‘Free Trampoline.’


BACKGROUND: Ever since I can remember, I have loved turning people’s trash into my treasures. I cannot walk past a garage sale without digging through the neighbor’s junk. Over the years, I have even decorated my room with accessories from various sales and giveaways. …

Give Them a Try!

I hope these examples give you a clearer idea of how to use this approach in using your personal real-life stories to power you personal essays for college application essays.

Remember, even though these are narrative (story-telling) essays, they are not one long story.

Instead, they use an anecdote (small moments, incidents and experiences) as an example of a larger point the writer desires to share and explore about himself or herself into the rest of the essay.

You can easily learn how to write your own narrative essay and craft engaging anecdotes by reading my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell! I also train this same step-by-step process in my own online writing course.

If you’d like to read more of the sample essays, they are in Heavenly Essays.

You are able to understand this technique by reading posts on this weblog. My suggestion is to utilize the Find Helpful Posts INDEX regarding the right side of my weblog, or enter topics you desire help with into the SEARCH box (such as for example: locating a Topic, How Write an Anecdote, etc.)

For some students, reflecting on and analyzing their backgrounds can be a snap.

They enjoy that type of introspective, heady thinking.

For others, it can feel intimidating and baffling.

In spite of how you feel about this process, you need to know who you are—or at least have some opinions about this—in order to write a meaningful college application essay about yourself.

In a personal statement essay, the most important content is where you showcase your ability to take a close check yourself.

It’s not plenty what you see, as how you can demonstrate the ability to step back and size up who you are and how you came to be that way—and why it matters.

The very good news is that ‘getting deep’ and self-reflection aren’t that difficult.

First, decide that it’s time to do a little soul searching.

Yes, it’s possible to learn how to push your thinking to a ‘deeper’ level.

It’s this that college is all about!

(Do you have a Fixed or Growth Mindset? HINT: You desire Growth to excel in college and life!)

So in your own personal statement, ensure that you show your target colleges that you already can self-reflect, analyze, examine, question and think (especially about yourself)!

Here are my best posts to help you learnto bring more depth to your college application essays:

Learn what core qualities and qualities prompt you to you:

Find Your Defining Qualities

Learn how to use these in your essays:

Defining Qualities Rock College Application Essays

Find out what values matter the most to you:

Find Your Core Values to Rock Your Essay

More help on figuring out what you value more:

What Do You Really Believe?

Teach yourself just how to move beyond narrow, black-and-white thinking:

Best College Application Essays Have a Touch of Gray

Find out if life example you learned applies to everyone in the world:

Do You Have a Universal Truth in Your Essay?

If you take the time to learn these posts and turn the magnification device . on yourself, I’m confident you will discover insights, observations and ideas to bring depth and meaning to your college application essays.

Here’s that Fixed vs Growth Mindset Question for you. I LOVE this!