College Essays: Start Now!

By June 4, 2015 No Comments

essayAs the summer gets underway, college applications may seem far off to rising seniors. The college essay, in particular, has a reputation for being a thankless and stressful process, and students might want to put off writing the dreaded essays until fall arrives and they are back in the classroom again. But beginning to work on the essays over the summer is a smart idea, and can actually take much of the stress out of its preparation and lessen the work students have to do over the fall semester. And beginning the work of writing the college essays doesn’t mean that students can’t spend time relaxing over the summer. Read on for why and how to begin working on the college essays this summer!

Must college application essays = dreaded, stressful tasks?
Writing college essays is hard work. The stakes of writing a good essay seem very high, and the anxiety that comes with the knowledge that essays are an important component of the college application tends to make students leave essays until the last moment. But avoidance won’t help students produce good essays. Beginning the process well in advance does. By starting early and leaving themselves time to do multiple drafts of the essays, students can remove the pressure of writing a good essay at first. Instead they can put the work in gradually over time, improving their essays with each draft. Here are some painless ways for students to work on the essay over the summer.

Think about it…
Since the personal statement is the longest essay, students would do well to focus on this essay first. These college essays, first and foremost, are meant to help the colleges learn more about who the student is. Admissions officers want to see thoughtful personal statements that help them better know a student, in addition to making sure that the student has the ability to convey ideas in the written form. In order to produce a thoughtful essay, of course, students need to reflect on what they want to say in their essays. The summer is a good time for students to begin to think about what they want colleges to know about them. It’s also a good time for students to begin the process of self-reflection that will help them produce a thoughtful personal statement.

Prompt help…
Alternatively, students can check out previous common application questions (which do not change much from year to year). All of the prompts ultimately boil down to a request for students to tell the colleges more about themselves through different questions. Which essay questions call out to them the most? How might they go about answering those questions?

Examples, please!
Once students have thought about what they want colleges to know about themselves, they can think about ways to demonstrate these traits to people who know little about them. They can recall episodes in their lives when they have demonstrated those characteristics. As they think about examples, students should bear in mind that college admissions officers do not know them, and will require details and examples to back up any assertions that students might make about themselves.
For instance, if a student wants to demonstrate that s/he is responsible, it is not enough to simply say that s/he is responsible. Rather than just asserting his or her responsibility, students should think of times that they behaved responsibly and provide personal details. For instance, s/he might tell about how s/he took care of younger siblings, picking them up from school, making dinner, and putting them to bed every Thursday when both parents worked late.

Jot it down!
Throughout the process of reflection, we encourage student to jot down their thoughts. At this point, students needn’t be concerned about proper grammar, organization or any other writing conventions. They should write down what comes to them so that they can remember their reflections later and figure out which they want to turn into their personal statement. By the time the student begins preparing college applications and writing essays in earnest, they will have already done the hard work of thinking seriously about what they want to convey to the colleges.

College essays can be stressful, especially if students do not leave sufficient time to reflect and revise their work. But writing essays does not have to be a painful experience. In fact, if students start early on their essays, they can remove much of the stress from the process while laying the foundations for a thoughtful essay.