I have been working with high school students for years, so I have lots of experience with the college application process. When it comes to the college essay, many students and their parents become fear stricken. This 650 word essay seems like the single most significant piece of writing that a student will do in their academic career. While it is a very important part of the application process, it doesn’t have to be a major source of stress. Here are some tips to make writing the college essay a little bit more bearable.
College essays are best written when there isn’t a huge time crunch. The old “I write better under pressure” doesn’t apply here. Yes, your child may be a whiz at writing essays for school at midnight the night before they are due. In this case, slow and steady wins the race. The ideal time to start working on the essay is the summer between junior and senior year. Why? The essay may be one component of the application, but it is the most time-consuming. Getting the essay completed really takes the weight off of your child before the demands of school begin in the fall.
Work in Small Increments:
Don’t expect the college essay to be written in one sitting. In fact, most essays take a significant amount of revision. Revision may be a very new process for most, since it is very often neglected. In fact, first draft usually looks very different from the essay that is ready for submission. It’s okay to spend 15 minutes a day writing a little bit and working in small increments of time. Expecting to finish the essay in an hour is unrealistic.
Stay Focused on the Purpose:
There are all sorts of urban legends about uber creative essays sent to Ivy League schools where the student instantly gains acceptance. Trying to live up to these crazy standards is discouraging and unnecessary. Each college admission officer is trying to learn more about each applicant through the essay. Their goal is to determine whether the applicant is a good fit for their institution. While being creative and taking risks is certainly commendable, if writing creatively is not a strength, there’s no need to attempt to write the most unusual or creative piece.
Speaking of finding the right fit, students will want their essay to be reflective of who they are. While sticking with conventions like proper punctuation and capitalization, students shouldn’t hide their unique voice in an overly formal essay. Consider the essay an on-paper interview that helps the admissions officers see more than just the numbers on a student’s transcripts.
Forget the Sob Story:
The college essay is not the time to explain away poor grades or a difficult semester. Instead of creating a pity party, consider how that failure or challenge has shaped future experiences. Take ownership of bad decisions use them to illustrate strengths and perseverance. The reader will be much more engaged with an essay like this.
The college essay can feel overwhelming, but it’s really just another tool for the admissions team to get to know you. Bottom line? Take the time to plan ahead and take small steps. Completing the essay before school begins in September will allow students the freedom to apply early and to refocus on their senior courses without added pressure.