How to Write an Essay Describing a Life Experience

An essay about a life experience should focus on the personal significance of the event.
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High school and college students often write essays about their life experiences as part of their English coursework. Some colleges use the topic as an essay prompt on their applications. As a student, write your paper about a life experience as though you're telling a story, such as a personal narrative. Discuss a specific experience or a life situation that you personally encountered -- not a historical event or a situation that you observed. The goal is to show your readers why the experience is a significant, meaningful part of your life.

1 Set the Stage

Choose a life experience that's clear and vivid in your mind, so you can easily describe it. Discuss any important background information and the setting, so readers will understand when and where your life experience occurred.

For example, if your paper is about how difficult it was to relocate to a new state during your senior year of high school, start with a description of how you felt as you said good-bye to your childhood home. Include a thesis in the introduction that identifies your major theme and connects to your personal experience, such as, "Even though relocating to a new state during my senior year in high school was difficult, I came out stronger, more self-reliant and better equipped for college in the long run."

2 Write in the First Person

Use the first-person point of view and the pronoun "I" throughout your paper to make it more personal and meaningful. You're writing about a firsthand experience, so readers should identify with your feelings, emotions, challenges and struggles. Present facts about your life experience in chronological order to keep your paper organized and retain structure. For example, if your paper is about the time you hiked the Appalachian Trail in Maine with your uncle, discuss the beginning of your journey before you explain a climactic moment, or discuss how you felt at the end of the hike. Include sensory descriptions in your writing, such as what you heard along the trail, what you smelled when you made a campfire or what you saw when you reached a summit.

3 Provide a Clear Purpose

Tie your points to your thesis to give your essay a well-defined purpose, suggests the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Provide detailed examples about your life experience to back your thesis and support important themes. For example, if your paper is about your ability to make friends easily after living on a military base in high school, one of your body paragraphs might be about overcoming feelings of isolation, another about finding common ground with other military kids and a third about attending a variety of mandatory military-sponsored social events. Explain how your life experience helped shape who you are today.

4 Include Personal Reflections

Discuss the value, merit or importance of the experience to add depth to your paper. This is especially important if your essay is part of a college admissions requirement or a college scholarship application. For example, if your paper is on the difficulties you faced after your dad lost his leg in a tragic accident, discuss how you had to become the man of the house or how you had to spend your summers working to help provide for your family. Incorporate dialogue into your essay to make it more compelling. Write about a conversation you had with your dad where he thanked you for taking on so much responsibility.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.