High School Students Interested in Creative Writing: How to Build Your Profile

Padya Paramita

High School Students Interested in Creative Writing: How to Build Your Profile

If you fall under the category of high school students interested in creative writing, chances are, you want to continue honing your writing skills in college. As one of your strengths, writing will not only help you with the components of your college application, but seeing prowess in the field in your activities list and honors section can also help admissions officers understand just how strong a writer you are! To guide you through how to succeed in the college admissions process as a budding writer, I’ve gone through the list of top English programs at colleges, how to take advantage of your personal statement and supplemental essays, ways to boost your extracurriculars, and finally summer programs that can help you sharpen your writing skills and help you get one step closer to admissions at a top humanities college.

School List

High school students interested in creative writing usually major in English or concentrate in creative writing with the English major. Although all colleges have English majors, some colleges are better known for it than others thanks to esteemed faculty, specialized classes, and greater opportunities to grow as a writer. US News’ top 20 English programs are as follows:

Rank School Location
1 University of California — Berkeley Berkeley, CA
1 University of Chicago Chicago, IL
3 Columbia University New York, NY
3 Stanford University Palo Alto, CA
3 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
6 University of California — Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
8 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
8 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
8 Princeton University Princeton, NJ
8 University of Michigan — Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
8 Yale University New Haven, CT
13 Brown University Providence, RI
13 Duke University Durham, NC
15 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
15 Rutgers University New Brunswick, NJ
17 University of California — Irvine Irvine, CA
18 University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
20 New York University New York, NY
20 Indiana University — Bloomington Bloomington, IN
20 University of California — Davis Davis, CA
20 University of Texas — Austin Austin, TX
20 University of Wisconsin — Madison Madison, WI

As you’re making your college list, look through the course offerings, the list of professors, notable alumni, and opportunities to pursue writing beyond the classroom through the school newspaper, literary magazines, writing internships, and more. While it might not seem like a big deal, strong mentorship from esteemed writers can make a big difference in your development as a writer, as well as for future recommendation opportunities if you want to apply to creative writing Masters programs.

Personal Statement

If you’ve always wanted to be a writer, one of the most obvious ways to showcase your writing skills is through writing a stellar essay. While your personal statement can be a different story about another topic that holds significance to you, the way you write this essay matters. The personal statement is an effective way to demonstrate your creative side—how can you tell a unique story in a unique way. And of course, you can use this essay to write about your journey as a writer and your future goals. If you’ve helped a person or group in your community by writing an article in a newspaper, or you’ve worked hard on a novel about your life, these would make for standout essay topics. Whatever you write about, make sure that the admissions office comes out of the experience knowing that you will be bringing these skills to campus.

Supplemental Essays

While you have less room to be creative, your supplemental essays are the place to discuss what you’ve done to work on becoming a writer. Although there aren’t essay prompts explicitly dedicated to high school students interested in creative writing, there are supplemental essay prompts that ask students to elaborate on why they have chosen a certain major or to expand on one of the activities on their profile. This could be a great opportunity to discuss why you want to study writing, what your specific interests within the field are, and how you’ve developed your craft. Some possible prompts where you can address your writing, for example, are:

New York University: We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand

- Why NYU? [Max. 400 words]

Harvard University: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. [Max. 150 words]

Vanderbilt University: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. [200-400 words]

Essays like this provide you with the chance to write about why you wish to be an English or creative writing major—or to outline how you’ve taken advantage of the opportunities around you and made an impact on an activity of your choice. If you write about why you wish to be an English or creative writing major, discuss how your interest in the topic developed, how you pursued it in high school, and how that specific school can help you achieve your writing goals through specific classes, professors, internships and more. If you choose to talk about an activity, don’t just go on about your interest in writing in general. Pick a specific activity that involves writing and take the reader through your journey, whether it’s elaborating on leadership, collaboration, or how it might have shifted your perspective.

Extracurricular Activities 

Face it: there are numerous high school students interested in creative writing. Saying you like to write isn’t enough. You must ensure that you have gone beyond just writing essays for school in order to develop your writing skills and establish yourself as a strong writer. You could specialize in this field even further through one or more of the following ways:

  • Start an activity centered around creative writing: Colleges love to see students who have taken their own initiative and showcased their leadership skills. If your school doesn’t have a creative writing club, here’s your chance to start your own. You can be in charge of creating lessons, bringing guests, facilitating workshops with each other. If your school already has a creative writing club, you could start an activity that’s even more niche, such as a poetry writing club or a mystery writers’ club. Make sure to think out of the box and consult your classmates to see how they would like to work on their writing.
  • Write your own novel or collection: This is an independent project that’s pretty straightforward. There are fewer more effective ways to show that you’re a dedicated and strong writer than writing your own long piece of work. Whether it’s a novel, a poetry collection, or an anthology of short stories, take advantage of summers or other long breaks to conceptualize, write, and edit your own original work. High school students interested in creative writing can also take advantage of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which is a writing challenge that takes place in November of every year. 
  • Submit your work to journals: College admissions officers will want to see evidence of your writing skills. No better way to do so than to provide links to publications that have printed your work. Fortunately, the steps it takes to get published in high school actually aren't that hard. While you need to submit quality work, there are definitely journals out there that receive and publish high schoolers’ writing. Check out the list of excellent publications (some online and some in print) that will accept and publish good writing regardless of the writer’s age in this blog.
  • Enter writing competitions: Another way to establish yourself as a writer worth paying attention to is to place in writing competitions. The scale of these competitions can be national—but they can also be local, so take advantage of any opportunities in your school or city. If you can win an award in a statewide or national context, that’s incredible. Some well-known writing competitions for high school students are:
  • Help others with their writing: Learning how to give feedback is as important a part of growing as a writer as the actual writing is. If you’re looking for extracurricular activities for high school students interested in creative writing, and you’re someone interested in community outreach, think about how you can combine these two passions. You might offer an evening class for members of your community who have 9-5 jobs. Or, you can start a Zoom writing workshop and invite students from any location. Don’t be afraid to get as creative as possible.
  • Find a writing-related job: Finally, check out if anyone is hiring! Local newspapers often look for teen reporters, while many other companies need to fill roles such as copy editor, writer’s assistant, journalism intern, content writer and more. Having a job can not only sharpen your writing and editing skills, but you’ll also be able to convey that you’re a responsible and mature individual in your College Application. You can look for jobs specifically for teenagers on websites such as SnagAJob and Indeed.

Summer Programs

High school students interested in creative writing can have the opportunity to learn from college professors and share their work with peers starting early. The following summer programs allow high schoolers to hone and share their writing skills in a variety of degrees. Whether you write fiction, plays, or think pieces, acceptance and participation in one of the following would show that you have worked hard to sharpen your craft.

Iowa Young Writers’ Studio

As an aspiring writer, you might have heard about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. While you can’t apply to the prestigious workshop until graduate school, the university does host a summer program for young writers, known as the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. This two-week-long creative writing experience for high school students interested in creative writing provides an environment to hone your craft through seminars and workshops. Upon choosing fiction, poetry, or a mix of both as your concentration, you will attend courses that encourage you to improve your writing skills through peer-edits, writing exercises and activities, different approaches to writing, and constructive criticism from mentors. 

Interlochen Center for the Arts Summer Arts Camp

If you’re already highly talented and looking for arts summer programs that can enable you to grow as a writer, The Interlochen Center’s summer camp helps artistic students work on their skills in creative writing alongside other fields such as music and theatre design. You will have to show a final project (probably a story or longer piece of writing) to complete the program. You’ll not only have the opportunity to learn from professional artists and instructors, but you’ll also collaborate with other like-minded students and share your writing with each other.

Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute

The Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute is a journalism camp that allows rising seniors to gain hands-on experience in writing, reporting, and editing for print and digital broadcasting. Especially if you’re hoping to apply to a top journalism program, participation in Medill’s program would look excellent on your profile. As part of this five-week summer institute, you’ll meet aspiring journalists from all over the world and partake in a variety of journalistic initiatives, from conducting interviews to working on stories about trending topics. You’ll also be paired with a mentor who will meet with you weekly to critique your writing assignments. Students are encouraged to pitch their articles and get published in the Daily Northwestern, which you should definitely strive for in order to impress college admissions officers! 

Columbia Creative Journalism Summer Program

Columbia Creative Journalism is a program for high school students hoping to quickly understand the basics of reporting. If you’re among high school students interested in creative writing who wish to pursue journalism, this one-week course gives you the opportunity to learn from esteemed journalist Elizabeth Walters and Columbia writing professor Kristen Martin. Students hone their reporting and interviewing skills through writing assignments such as profiles, op-eds, features, and audio pieces while staying in the journalistic hub that is New York City. You will also be asked to read a variety of articles as well as write a new article draft every night to better understand the landscape of journalism today.

New York University Tisch Summer Program

NYU’s Tisch School of Arts offers students in search of arts summer programs with an array of options at this four-week-long camp, where participants can choose to focus in dramatic writing alongside other performance genres. Tisch emphasizes projects, professional training, and structured classes. To complete the program, you have to turn in all of the intensive assigned coursework and professional training requirements for your chosen track. If you’re concentrating in dramatic writing, you will have to present your work to your peers, which is then reviewed and critiqued by the rest of the workshop members. You’ll have the opportunity to stay in an NYU residence hall and get a glimpse of what college might be like if you plan to attend art school in the Big Apple. At the end of the program you will have a chance to showcase your work—your play, video game, choreography—depending on your track.

Hopefully, you’ve come out of reading this blog with a strong idea of what it takes to succeed as high school students interested in creative writing. Admissions officers want to see students who have gone the extra mile and really dedicated themselves to their field. Don’t just perform well in the classroom. Start a writing club, apply for a writing internship, write your own novel if you have the time. Nothing is too small. You got this!

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