By Eric Lynne
Think back to last spring. School would soon be out and you had a goal: I’m going to get my college application essays done before the end of summer. Then the nice weather and the barbeques and the fireworks whisked you away. June went by in a minute, July stopped by for a second, and you still aren’t convinced August even happened. No worries: you still had all of fall to get these done.
Then school came and your free time went. Soon you were too busy with extracurricular activities, homecoming, sports, and that mountain of homework. College essays waited for you on weekends—but as the leaves fell and the crisp air blew in, you pushed those essays off for another day. You’d get to it.
And remember last week, when you said you’d get all of your essays done over Thanksgiving Break? Then turkey, stuffing, football, relatives, and sleep happened. Now, the literal eleventh month is over and the figurative eleventh hour has arrived. December is knocking at the door and the January 1 deadline is just around the corner. The time to start on those essays has come.
Welcome, procrastinators. We’ve been waiting for you.
As a procrastinator myself (I am, after all, writing this blog the day before it is to be sent out!) I sympathize with your upcoming plight. The good news is that you do have a month—a lifetime for procrastinators like us. If used efficiently, you can still put together quality application essays in that time. But in order to do so, you’ll have to plan and stick to a pretty strict schedule from here on out. Now, fellow procrastinators, I know that sticking to a plan is not our strong suit. However, college essays are not something to be thrown together last minute. We’re talking about the next four years of your life!
So below is an outline that can guide you through a busy month.
- Compile & Prioritize: First & Second Tier EssaysBefore ripping into your first essay, take an inventory of all the essay prompts. During this process, you may be surprised you have more essays to write than you thought. The good news, though, is that you’ll discover many schools ask the same questions. The three most common are (1) Why do you want to attend this university? (2) Which of your extracurricular activities was the most meaningful to you? and (3) Why have you chosen your prospective major or area of study? Therefore, you’ll likely be able to repurpose the same topic for multiple essays or at least use the same organization or structure. Once you’ve compiled all these essays prompts, separate them into two groups: (1) First Tier Essays, which should include your personal statement, your top schools’ essay prompts, and any essay prompt that is used for multiple schools, and (2) Second Tier Essays, the rest of your essays. This way, you are addressing the most important essays first and leaving the other ones for later.
- Clear Your Schedule
This will be a busy month, so make sure you are not piling on additional responsibilities or tasks that can be saved for after the new year. Even better, block out and dedicate some dates devoted for essay writing.
END OF WEEK 1:
- Secure Yourself an Editor
A good editor can’t make you taller, but a good editor can help you stand up straighter. Presentation matters, and even in a time crunch, you want these essays to appear polished. Make sure you have an editor that not only knows how to use the English language effectively, but also has some idea of what colleges are looking for. Need help finding an editor? We have editors available at Galin Education—just call our offices at 608-841-1053.
- Write Your (SIMPLE) First Drafts of First Tier Essays and Send Them to Your Editor
Yes, this is a quick turnaround, but it’s vital to get your ideas out there and receive feedback ASAP. Writers like Anne Lamott sometimes refer to this essay as the down draft—a quick write used to get your ideas down on paper. For this reason, I would highly recommend that these first drafts be short and to the point: if you’ve been given 650 words to write an essay, aim for 500 words on this first attempt. A good editor will be able to provide feedback for where you should expand and you’ll save yourself some time by not going over the word limit.
END OF WEEK 2:
- Write Your (SIMPLE) First Drafts of Second Tier Essays and Send Them to Editor
Same idea as with your First Tier Essays: just get your ideas down so you can get some feedback.
- Revise and Send Second Drafts of First Tier Essays to Editor
If the first draft is the down draft (as Anne Lamott explains) this one is the up draft: you fix it up. This is where you internalize your editor’s advice and do your best to finish up the essay to the best of your ability.
END OF WEEK 3:
- Finalize Drafts of Most Important Essays
In this final stage, clean up any grammatical errors, check your word use (in other words, make sure you’re not using the word “amazing” or “opportunity” 14 times in an essay), and make any other last adjustments.
- Revise and Send Second Drafts of Second Tier Essays to Editor
Same as above: take your editor’s feedback and try to get these essays as close to ready as possible.
END OF WEEK 4:
- Finalize Second Tier Essays and Final Review
This is your last chance to look over your essays! Though an editor might not be available to do final proofread in time for submission, ask a parent or trusted friend to just check for grammar. I also strongly recommend reading each of your essays out loud, word by word—this can help you catch any final mistakes.
- Add Essays to Applications and Send
This may be the hardest part of writing: at some point, you just have to let them go. I would urge you to do this before the final day of applications. It is not uncommon that a college’s application portal will start bugging out on that final day. Save yourself the stress.
Best of luck, fellow procrastinators! I wish you luck!