Colleges, scholarship sources and composition teachers will often ask you to write about people who played key roles in your academic, emotional, or social development. In most cases, an influential figure is someone close to you -- a relative, teacher or coach who helped you to improve your skills or outlook. In other cases, you might want to write about a public figure you admire, or even a peer who has inspired you through actions or outlook.
Select the Influential Figure
Read the assignment guidelines and, if possible, other essays that dealt with the topic of influential figures. Many students choose to write about a relative, but your selection depends largely on what aspects of your personality you want to put forth. If you have an inquisitive spirit, you might want to write about a particular teacher who shaped the way you approach research. If you wish to focus on your empathy, select a person who brought this out in you, whether a fellow volunteer or a classmate with special needs.
Write an outline as a guide to your story. The College Admission Essay website recommends approaching this topic much as you would a short story, by detailing the following:
Exposition: Introduce any backstory -- the characters, setting and relevant past events.
Rising action: Describe a particular conflict or obstacle the influential figure helped you to overcome.
Climax: Show the manner in which the conflict was resolved.
Denouement: Discuss any changes to your worldview that resulted from the action described.
Write the Body
Write the main action of your story, meaning the conflict and the climax. While it might seem counterintuitive to write an essay in this manner, writing the body first can often solidify what you need to include in the introduction and conclusion. Keep your language lively and vivid with detail. Use transitive verbs and the active tense wherever possible. Keep the word limit in mind; typically, the body of your essay will be about three paragraphs long.
Open with a sentence that hooks the reader's interest and truly distinguishes your influential character. As an example, "My grandmother was the only black person at her college who spoke with a Filipino accent," automatically acknowledges her intelligence, differentiates her from women with a similar background, and makes the reader curious and eager to read the rest of the exposition. From there, relate backstory and other details relevant to your story and characters. End with a great transition sentence into the body.
Express the overall impact this person has had on your life and the ways in which he or she has shaped you. There is a lot of freedom in this regard; you can relate an anecdote about an unrelated incident where your actions were informed by lessons you learned, or you can describe the ways in which your life goals reflect the time you've spent with the figure. Your last sentence should have a sense of finality and resonate at an emotional level.
Ask a friend or teacher to look over your essay. Grammar is important, but above all, you'll want to edit your prose to maximize the reader's enjoyment. This can mean increasing the moments of humor, utilizing hyperbole, and eliminating any sections your readers view as redundant or cliche. If possible, look for a writing lab in your area. Here, a professional can go over your work in person and make suggestions to improve your essay.
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