If you’re a high school junior, it’s time to think about your college essay. That’s because you want your essay to be great—and great essays aren’t written in a day. Or even a week. They take introspection and planning. The summer before senior year is the best time to do the actual writing. Plan to complete it before September, since you’ll be very busy during senior year. So it’s smart to block out your writing time now, as part of your summer planning.
1. Allow plenty of time. To write a good essay, you’ll need to do multiple drafts. It’s important to allow time to think things through carefully and make sure you’re on the right track. You’ll probably make several false starts. That’s normal. It’s also why you should budget enough time to scratch things out and start over, in case you need to. Remember you’ll need to work your essay through several stages: from developing the idea and sketching it out, to executing it as a polished piece of writing. Figure you’ll need at least several hours of uninterrupted time, a few days in a row, to get started. Of course, you’ll need more time to get through all the necessary revisions and editing.
2. Read before you write. Read plenty of personal essays before you start writing your own. That’s not so you can imitate somebody else’s writing, but so you fully understand the form, its structure and possibilities.
Some of the best personal essays will sound so natural and spontaneous you may imagine the writer just sat down and wrote whatever came into their head. But don’t be fooled. The more free-flowing the essay sounds, the more time the writer probably spent on it.
3. Choose your subject carefully. There are many stories you could tell about yourself, but some are more compelling others. Consider what you want a college to know about you. Ask yourself how your essay will fit in with the rest of your college application strategy. It should be an integral part of it. This is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make about your college application. So, choose wisely, and get advice if you’re uncertain.
4. As you’re writing, ask these questions. Does your essay make you seem like a thoughtful and interesting person? Do you sound like someone who’d be a valuable addition to the college community? Remember that the people at the college admissions office will be reading hundreds of essays by other students. Yours needs to stand out and grab their attention. At the same time, you don’t want to sound conceited.
5. Get feedback. Especially when writing about yourself, it’s hard to be objective. That’s why it’s wise to get feedback from another person. Ask someone who isn’t too emotionally involved with you, perhaps a teacher or counselor, to share their reactions. Ask whether your essay conveys the ideas and information you intended to convey. Ask if the narrative holds their attention. Most important of all, ask whether the essay would compel them to admit you as a freshman, if they worked in the admissions offices of the colleges where you plan to apply.
6. Revise and polish. After you’re sure you’ve got the narrative and structure right, go back over each paragraph and sentence carefully. Read your essay aloud to hear how it sounds. Consider your tone, your rhythms and your word choices. Now is the time to revise, if necessary, and to polish.
7. Heads up for the supplemental essays. Once you’ve completed your personal essay, take a deep breath and relax. You deserve a break. But don’t forget that many selective colleges will also require additional writing, often called “supplemental essays.” Although these questions often ask for shorter answers, they pose their own challenges. The way you answer them is just as important as your personal essay.
Check the application requirements for each college on your list, so you’ll know whether they require supplemental essays. If they do, be sure to schedule enough time to do a good job with each and every one of them.
For more information, contact The College Strategist.