By Megan Thompson
As the school year begins to wind down for current juniors, college applications may seem far off. 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 spring and summer is a smart idea, and it can actually take much of the stress out of its preparation and lessen the work students have to do in their 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.
Where to start? The Personal Statement!
Since the personal statement is generally the longest essay (and the 2021-2022 Common App personal statement prompts are already available), 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 – what traits, values, and experiences they’d most like to highlight, and what stories and examples best illustrate those characteristics.
What prompt should I choose?
All of the Personal Statement 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, or bring to mind qualities or stories that they’d like to share with colleges? It can help for students to jot down some bullet points or reflections for what thoughts come to mind with each of the prompts, and see which question produces the most writing or invokes the most emotion. And note that the final prompt is “share an essay on a topic of your choice.” In other words, students do not need to feel locked in to a particular question, and in fact should feel free to write about whatever they choose!
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. Remember that key advice from English class: “Show, don’t tell!”
For instance, if a student wants to demonstrate that they are responsible, it is not enough to simply say that they are responsible. Rather than just asserting their responsibility, students should think of times that they behaved responsibly and provide personal details. For instance, someone might tell about how they 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 students 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.
Feeling like you could use some extra support getting started? Get help from our team of experienced essay coaches here at Galin, either by registering up for one of our summer College Application Boot Camps (discounted through May 1st!) or by making an appointment to meet one-on-one with an essay coach!