How To Make Your Extra Curricular Essay Stand Out

If you have no uncommon topic or achievements, it’s all the more important to make uncommon connections related to your values. Why? With a common topic and common connections (i.e. basketball taught me hard work and discipline), you’ll likely blend in. Instead, you want to generate insights others won’t have thought of. How? There’s a game for that!

The UC* Game  

*Uncommon Connections

First, pick a cliché topic that you might use for an essay. The more cliché the better.

Football, you say? The mission trip? Awesome, let’s do both.

Step 1: Brainstorm the cliché version of your essay. 

First, tell me what the typical football or mission trip essay will focus on. How? Take a look at the Values Exercise and list some cliché values that you think the typical essay would focus on.

  • A cliché connection for [football] would be [teamwork, responsibility, hard work, etc.] 
  • A cliché connection for a [mission trip] would be [helping others, hard work, passion, etc.].

You get the idea. 

Step 2: Come up with 3-4 uncommon values.

Next, brainstorm values that might not normally be associated with football or a mission trip.


  • An uncommon connection to [football] might be [resourcefulness, healthy boundaries, critical thinking, etc.].
  • An uncommon connection to [a mission trip] might be [serenity, accountability, practicality, etc.].

If you can find one uncommon connection you can find two, if you can find two you can find three, and if you can find three then you have enough content for a 350-word essay. Here’s how to develop your content:

Step 3: Tie the value to a specific example from your life.

Describe one specific example of how you’ve developed or explored that value through that activity… and maybe even applied it to other areas of your life.

Example: Football has made me a better reader.

As a cornerback, I meticulously and systematically scan the offense, looking for nuances in formation before the quarterback snaps the ball, all in a matter of seconds. It’s not unlike annotating a novel. Finding the subtle complexities in my rival teams’ spread offense has not only led me to intercepting a pass, but has given me the skills to fully digest, for example, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, where the smallest, and at first glance, almost unnoticeable details, add to an intricate story that I wouldn’t appreciate in the same way had I not been able to notice those details in the first place.

See how that makes for a more interesting football essay? 

uncommon value (critical thinking) + application elsewhere (English class) = win

Once you have a list of 3-4 uncommon values and examples of how they’ve manifested in your life…

Step 4: Decide on an order for your details and write a draft.

I recommend chronological order, as it’ll make transitions easier. Then try a draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, just get something down on paper.