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Create your intention

Choose what you want your reader to know about you

This is

where you say what Tina Fey will know about you after she’s read your college essay.

You’ll create a list that includes your top strengths, plus 5–10 additional points you want to communicate about yourself.

Do this because

if you create clear intentions, you’ll have a stronger foundation for writing an effective essay.

Now, do this


Read 4 students’ personal intentions.

These are the unedited personal intentions 4 of our mentoring students created for themselves. They used these lists through the rest of the Write Like a Pro process.

Each list has 9–12 points and starts with the personal strengths

Items on the lists are short and clear. They aren’t all well-written.

    Sample intentions


    1. At least 5 of the top strengths (bravery, forgiveness, love, curiosity, fairness, perspective, zest, kindness, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude)
    2. Driven by things I’m committed to–do what it takes to make it happen
    3. Involved in the community
    4. Tend to take the lead–both comes up with the idea/create project, and sense of accomplishment
    5. Super responsible
    6. Not afraid to speak my mind
    7. I’m afraid to talk to people, but am I gonna do it? Hell yes if I need to.
    8. Nerdy
    9. Many interests–like a lot of things, jump around
    10. Can commit to things I’m passionate–will stick with it
    11. Very motivated
    12. Adventurous/willing to try new things


    1. 5+ top ten strengths (love, humor, creativity, gratitude, curiosity, humility, self-regulation, teamwork, zest, honesty)
    2. General creativity
    3. The little details matter
    4. I always am interested in how things are made and work
    5. I am systematic thinker
    6. Straight to the point and into more analysis/application of my understandings
    7. See things from other people’s perspectives
    8. People are open–I know more about certain people than most
    9. Want to engage in further conversation, fish it out – really know a person 


    1. At least five of my top ten strengths (fairness, honesty, hope, perseverance, perspective, leadership, social intelligence, prudence, spirituality, humor)
    2. Communal
    3. Detail oriented
    4. Organized and careful
    5. Think about things before and while I do them
    6. Sensitive to other people’s perceptions
    7. I’m sentimental
    8. Responsible spontaneity. Not being able to sit still but not in a destructive way–I get up and I do things
    9. Care about people’s opinions–try to be open minded so if someone has a way out their opinion, try to put yourself in their shoes. Maybe they don’t know something you do know.
    10. Do multitude of things. Not always things I’m good at but I give it my best
    11. Willing to try something even if I’m not sure about it–even if hard or stressful
    12. Willingness to get the job done, to work


    1. At least five of my top strengths (Love, Gratitude, Perseverance, Leadership, Teamwork, Love of learning, Perspective, Kindness, Social intelligence, Hope)
    2. Philosophical
    3. Musically oriented
    4. Life is good
    5. Adaptable
    6. Thinker
    7. Weirdly multicultural
    8. Unyielding desire to do good–the smile on someone’s face is my ultimate end goal, and the world’s best feeling is when someone smiles because of you.
    9. Realistically optimistic
    10. Willing to learn
    11. Overall enjoy life
    12. socially idealistic, with the intent of bringing people together to make things happen – petty grievances just get in the way


    Brainstorm a list of possible intentions in your Raw Content document.

    Read over your notes and comments at the bottom of your Raw Content document (this is what you wrote in the Discover what you’ve got activities).

    What patterns, relationships, and connections did you see? What did you write down? What did you highlight?

    Now—beyond your top ten strengths—what do you want an admissions officer to know about you?

    At the bottom of your Raw Content document, brainstorm a list of things you may want Tina Fey to know about you.

    Put anything you think is a dumb idea on the list. It’s ok to duplicate yourself.

    Aim for at least 10 items on your brainstorm list. Don’t go much beyond 25.

    Here are some questions to get you thinking:

    • What patterns and connections have you found?
    • Who are you?
    • What do you bring to your community?
    • What does everyone know about you?
    • What can everyone count on from you?
    • What are you passionate about?
    • How do you interact with people?
    • What drives you?
    • What vision do you have for your future?

    In the Writer phase, you’ll get intentional about the tone of your essay. For now, focus on what you want to communicate about yourself.

    For more inspiration, here are some points our students have included on their lists

    These are unedited snippets of intentions our students have shared. Feel free to steal or modify any of these.

    • A little crazy, a little weird
    • Ambition
    • Can go with most things
    • try to be open minded so if someone has a way out there opinion, try to put yourself in their shoes. Maybe they don’t know something you do know.
    • Despite initial reluctance/fear I give it my best, overcome it anytime
    • Determination for what I’m doing
    • Do multitude of things. Not always things I’m good at but I give it my best
    • Don’t have the fear of missing out
    • Don’t try to control
    • Drawn to social situations
    • Friendly
    • Gravitate towards helpful people, stay away from toxic people
    • I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person
    • Has many interests
    • forgiving person
    • I listen a lot
    • Leadership–natural leader–try to give people an equal chance to contribute
    • Like to have evidence. If someone says something that’s “I don’t know about that…” — try to have evidence
    • Like to plan things out. Sometimes better at planning that executing.
    • Likes to learn
    • Motivated to create a better place for people
    • My passion for working with kids
    • Not afraid to put my hand up for new things
    • Overall enjoys life
    • Passion
    • Persistent
    • Personable
    • Positive, optimistic
    • Socially in tune
    • Someone who has character and works well with other people
    • Think she’s very compassionate and loving
    • Try my hardest for things I care about or I know someone else cares about them
    • Trying to make people happy
    • Value friendships a lot
    • Very motivated
    • Willing to learn
    • Willing to try something even if I’m not sure about it–even if hard or stressful
    • Willingness to get the job done, to work


    Create a personal intentions document in your college essay folder.

    1. Create a document called My Personal Intentions. This is an important document you’ll use frequently—save it in your college essay folder.
    2. Create a heading: What Do I Want to Communicate? What’s My Message? What will the college know about me no matter what?
    3. Start a numbered list.
    4. As the first item on your list, write At least five of my top ten strengths and include your top ten strengths in parentheses.
      Your document should look something like this



      Choose your intentions and write them at the top of the document.

      Look over your brainstormed list. Are there some you know you want to include on your final list? Are there duplicates? Sometimes a few of them share a broader theme you hadn’t noticed. You may think of something new.

      Add at least 4 items to your personal intentions list. You can have 10 or 12 things on your list.

      Be sure that your intentions are clear or specific. Someone else should be able to read each one of them and know, more or less, what you mean. For example:

      Not clear: solve problems

      Clear: solve problems by creating a plan and working it

      Not clear: Lots of people

      Clear: I’m friends with lots of people from different groups

      Not clear: Music

      Clear: I love listening to music and sharing it with others

      Not clear: Awards

      Clear: I won the Nobel Prize in physics when I was 13 and the Best New Artist Grammy when I was a sophomore

      It’s ok if the language isn’t polished or intentions overlap. If you have more than 12 or 14, you may want to cluster similar ones. Otherwise, don’t spend time making your list pretty.

      You should have a clean, neat, numbered list that looks something like this


      Do a quick self-review of your intentions.

      Read over your intentions and ask yourself these questions:

      • If Tina Fey—the admissions officer—knew this about you, would she have a full, rich picture of who you are?
      • Is there anything else fundamental about you that you want to communicate?
      • If someone else reads your intentions, will they know (more or less) what you mean?  

      You may want to re-read the final intentions in Step 1, Read 4 students’ personal intentions.

      Pro tip: This is where a professional writer would be talking with one or two people. Show people this page (so they know what you’re up to) and your brainstormed list. You can also share The EssayQuest Guide Handbook so they get a bigger picture of the Write Like a Pro process. 

      You're ready to move on when

      • You have a neat, numbered, easily understood list of intentions.
      • Your list has at least 4 items beyond your top 10 strengths.
      • You’ve done a quick self-review of your intentions.