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Mulan 3-Part Growth

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

Over summer, I got into singing Disney songs with my friends Ian, James, and Westley. I looked up "I'll Make A Man Out Of You" on YouTube and watched the music video—and it completely changed how I think about writing college essay! This applies to all essay types: Common App, UC PIQs, supplements, you name it.

This video actually plays a very clever trick on us. When we watch it, we assume that Mulan and her friends (coworkers? not sure what to call them) experience linear growth. But that's not what happens at all. The video is organized along three discrete points!

  • #1 is before: Everyone is terrible at fighting, 0:00–2:20

  • #2 is process: How did they get better? 2:20–2:46

  • #3 is after: everyone is amazing at fighting. 2:47–3:23

Why does this matter?

This is the most efficient possible way to show personal growth, and you only have a few paragraphs to show that in your essay!

How do I do it?

1. The Y-axis

The Y-axis is your thematic trait. You need to be able to describe it in terms of opposites, like [A] and [-A].


  • shy & confident (shy & not shy)

  • arrogant & humble (arrogant & not arrogant)

  • can't do [X] & can do [X]

    • [X] can be something like "public speaking," "make a risotto," etc., but it has to be really important and represent personal growth in the context of the story

2. The X-Axis

The X-Axis itself is just the order the story is told in.

But where the X-axis falls on the Y-axis is the critical threshold: how good do you have to be at the thematic trait to accomplish the goal or solve the problem?

3. Use the case study format!

  1. Intro (25% of essay): introduce the goal or problem and thematic trait (which you're not good at yet)

  2. Process (60% of essay): how you improve at the thematic trait

  3. Conclusion (15% of essay): your success, which implies your personal growth

That's it!

Go watch "I'll Make A Man Out Of You" and see how it fits into this 3-part structure (and how tricky it is)! Plus, it's a fun song to sing with your friends.

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