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Crunch Time: Writing College Essays on a Tight Timeline

By November 29, 2023 No Comments

Now that we are past November 1 and most Early Action or Early Decision 1 deadlines, many students have taken their ‘foot off the pedal’ when it comes to essay writing, but it’s worth making sure you know what the plan might be for any upcoming Regular Decision or Early Decision 2 applications.

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you work on finalizing some of your essays during this crunch time: 

Always Pay Attention to the Prompt!

At times, feeling stuck on an essay can be solved by taking a closer look at the prompt and what it’s specifically asking for. ‘Why’ essays, for example, will often – implicitly or explicitly – tell you more or less exactly what they want to hear from you, which can allow you to go find the kind of specific examples or details you need to write about. Broader essay prompts can still clue you in to what the college is looking for, and sometimes utilizing those ‘close-reading’ skills you learned in English class can prompt new ideas.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Depending on where you are in the process, you may be able to repurpose or reconstruct former essays to fit current prompts. Simply cut and paste all relevant essays and then move through each, highlighting and color coding relevant material. Then, repurpose the material, finding the appropriate “glue” in transitional phrases. If this sounds overly simplistic, that’s because, for most cases, it is. Often, a significant portion of the essay will likely have to be rewritten or reworked, but descriptions of activities, portrayals of academic interests, and characterizations of programs, institutions, or important people can often be reappropriated to new prompts. 

…or Start All Over

Sometimes, however, it is best to let go of what was and just start all over. Rather than trying to condense the 400-word activity description for Vanderbilt into a 150-word description for Michigan, it may be best to simply start from scratch with an essay (or activity) that is more fitting. Though it may not seem like it, this is often a more efficient process and helps writers avoid the “Franken-essay” because students are trying to graft dissimilar parts. 

Save Drafts, Include Links

In our hyper-connected digital world it has never been easier to preserve different iterations of documents or to link troves of information directly into the document. To make things simpler, students should neatly organize drafts and include links to websites within the document itself. This will save valuable time when searching for a certain page detailing a program, or a certain turn of phrase from a prior draft.

Don’t Miss Hidden Essays 

Certain programs, Honors Colleges, and elective Scholarships have essays separate from those required for admission, and these essays are often embedded in the application. The worst-case scenario is for a student to think that they are done only to encounter a research-intensive essay at the last moment. 

Sign up for an Essay Coaching Session

A knowledgeable editor can provide fresh insight and direction for a student who may be stuck in a rut. If you feel like another set of eyes on your essays would be helpful, or even if you’d appreciate someone to bounce ideas off of early in the drafting process, we encourage you to reach out to hear about our great Essay Coaches – you can call (608) 841-1053 to learn more!

Finally, keep perspective. While it would be nice to write a perfect essay, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Remember, writing is never done, only due. Give it your best, edit carefully, submit, and then relax.