Answer: Your essay can draw on whatever moves you, regardless of when the anecdote, event, or inciting incident you’re writing about occurred. However, what matters most, in terms of timeline, is that you show your readers how the event not only influences you now but will continue to inflect your thinking about yourself and the world as the years roll on.
Another way of thinking about this is: your essay is about how your past influences your future, or the way you think now. Michael has settled on his grandfather teaching him to surf: That’s a fruitful topic—not just because it contains two characters (Michael and his grandfather), but also a place (the ocean, or, say, a surf shop), a plot (Michael couldn’t surf in the beginning, then learned in the middle, now at the end Michael can surf and tell us about it), but also because the end includes a lesson and a chance to spin that forward, perhaps by talking about how the sport has taught Michael how to be calm and collected under pressure.
Although every aspect of your college application is important, a strong college admission essay is one of the most important elements of the application. It is one of the final pieces of information that can influence admissions decisions, and it’s the only part of your application that is totally within your control. Your essay is also the only part of your application that is guaranteed to be unique; many other students may have the same GPA, nearly identical transcripts, or the same extracurricular activities as you, but none will have an essay like yours. Beyond helping you get in to school, well-written college admission essays can help students gain scholarships, grants and other financial aid. Investing the time to learn how to create a memorable essay can pay rich dividends.