Awesome. Here's part of Wikipedia's description of the Desert Bus video game:

The objective of the game is to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in real time at a maximum speed of 45 mph...The bus contains no passengers, there is little scenery (an occasional rock or stop sign will appear at the side of the road), and there is no traffic. The road between Tucson and Las Vegas is completely straight.

That sounds just like essays I endure. The student is taking me somewhere, but I don't know why. There is nothing memorable to see along the way. When I arrive at my destination, everything still looks the same as when I started. The essay is a desert bus.

Before you start writing me onto your desert bus, ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Why are you driving the bus? Tell me what happened to make you want to take the wheel. Maybe something shook you up. Something angered you. Something humbled you. Something enlightened you. Whatever it is, something triggered your decision. You didn't just wake up on the bus. You decided to drive it. Tell me what motivated you.
  2. What happened on your trip? Maybe you encountered an obstacle, like your car breaking down. Maybe you faced an opponent, like a drunk driver cutting you off doing 85. Maybe you failed at something, like not remembering your candy bar would melt in the summer heat, leaving you with nothing to eat unless you squeezed it out of the wrapper like toothpaste (fun!). Don't drive me down a straight road where nothing happens. Tell me about that one time that, dude, you're never going to believe this, but...
  3. How did your trip change you? After you reached your destination, then what? And so what? How did the trip shape you? Did you realize something along the way? But wait - don't end your essay with that lesson learned. Keep going. Tell me how you applied the lesson. Applying the lesson is proof that your trip transformed you. That's what I want to hear about.

Maybe you can't drive a party bus. But at least step off the desert bus.

Good luck writing!


Jon Perkins holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He helps students with their college, law school, and medical school applications.