For many high school students, the fall of senior year will be the busiest semester ever. But it doesn’t have to be your most stressful. You can minimize its challenges by planning the coming months carefully and putting all important dates on your calendar right now.
Choose your classes wisely
Make sure you’re on-track to complete all necessary classes this year. Check with the school counselor to be certain you’re not missing any requirements. Sign up for the most challenging classes you can handle. It goes without saying you’ll need to work hard and get solid grades to get into a good college.
Register and prep for any outstanding tests
If there are still tests—SAT, ACT or any others—you need to take at this point, register for them immediately and start prepping. Remember that many of the most selective colleges require the SAT Subject Tests (known as the SAT 2s) in addition to the other test scores!
Complete your personal essay
If you haven’t written your personal essay yet, block out the time and do so now. Start working on this project in early September, making sure you allow yourself enough time for several false starts. It’s not uncommon for students to write eight or ten drafts before they produce a compelling piece of writing. If you need help, don’t wait to seek it. After you have a strong draft, allow plenty of time for editing, copyediting and proofreading. See Essay Tips.
A good personal essay should present an aspect of your personality that is not obvious from the rest of your college application. The admissions officers will see your grades and test scores, a list of your extracurricular activities and your awards and achievements. They will also read the letters of recommendation your teachers have written for you. But they will not see the three-dimensional person you actually are. The purpose of your essay is to provide them with a deeper understanding of what makes you tick.
Selective colleges are looking for students who will bring creative energy and interesting thinking to their campus. Of course, they are also looking for evidence that a student is mature, socially conscious and will become a positive force in their community. The more your essay can convince the reader of these things, the more successful it will be.
Conflict is the engine of all good writing
To be successful, a personal essay must first hold the reader’s attention. To do that, you will need a bit of drama. You may have heard that every good piece of writing contains a conflict. Will Ahab avenge Moby Dick—or will the whale destroy him? Will Romeo and Juliet manage to come together, despite their families’ antipathies? If the writer presents a compelling problem or question, the reader will want to read on for the answer.
Are you a rising senior in high school? If so, now’s the time to write your personal essay. College applications may seem far away at the moment. But you’ll be there before you know it—it’s just a matter of months.
The best way to minimize the stress of applications is to complete your main essay this summer. Here are some tips for writing a great one. First, read essays other students have written. You can find collections of them online or in the library. After reading each one, ask yourself: if I ran a college, would I admit this person to my school? Why, or why not? Later, you can use these questions to measure the effectiveness of your own essay.
If you’re a rising senior, this summer is the best time to write your college essay. Come September, you’ll be so busy with other parts of the college application process—not to mention schoolwork—that it will be tough to write an essay that’s really great. And make no mistake about it: if you’re hoping to get into one of America’s top colleges, you’ll need more than a passable essay. You’ll need one that makes the admissions officers sit up and take notice, brings a smile to their lips and makes them remember you.
Now is the time to block out your summer writing schedule for this project. Students who tell themselves they can squeeze the writing in between their other activities and don’t reserve the necessary hours usually find they get to September with nothing on paper.
Even students who do schedule the necessary time often run into problems once they sit down to write. Usually that’s because they don’t understand what makes a successful college application essay, or they don’t know how to adapt those perceptions to the narratives of their own lives.