January 1st is the most usual deadline for college applications. It seems a long way off right now, but you’ll be very surprised how quickly it will come upon you. The mantra you should have is BEFORE WINTER BREAK, BEFORE WINTER BREAK. If you want to enjoy that break, it’s best to have your applications completed by then. And, if you’re considering Early Decision, that deadline is November 1. Your mantra should be, in this case, THE DAY AFTER COLUMBUS DAY WEEKEND.
It’s not so hard to fill in the blanks; it’s only somewhat harder to collect your recommendations, transcript, and test scores. But, the hardest part, the part that holds most students up, is writing the essay.
The solution is to start early. Starting early does not mean sitting down and writing. What it really means is getting into the mind set. How do you put yourself in the spot where you can and may even want to write that essay?
Collegebasics suggests a few ways to get into this essay-writing groove.
First, read essay prompts. Start with the Common Application. It offers you five essay prompts. You’re also most likely to use the Common Application, at least to start, and then write your supplemental essays as needed depending on what the colleges you are applying to require. (And, make sure you check to see if you have to write a supplemental essay for the colleges you apply to!)
Read the prompts several times and ask yourself, what are they really asking you to write about. For example, the most often selected prompt from the Common Application is Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you. What this prompt wants you to write about is how something has impacted you. The emphasis is on the personal impact. Some students think the emphasis is on describing the experience. Nope—this is a personal essay so the emphasis is what YOU think about the experience.
Next, leave yourself enough time to think about yourself. You are supposed to bring something to your application through the essay that is not already chronicled and enumerated on your application. Let the recommendations, grades, test scores, and résumé speak for themselves. What else is there about you that might set you apart? Enlist the aid of teachers, friends, and parents. Ask them about your quirks, their memories of you, what they think your values are, why they might want to be on a deserted island with you. Keep gathering information about yourself, especially from others’ eyes. Don’t leave rocks unturned.
Finally, think about different approaches to the essay. Don’t do the typical I’m-a-great-student-and-I-want-to-impress-you essay. Look at the little things in your life, look at the disappointments and negatives, as well. Even consider the weirder sides of you and your interests. Don’t forget that it is sometimes the most insignificant things that can be the most significant, that you learn from your mistakes, that down times can be enlightening, and that some of your quirkier aspects are your most charming.
And, while you’re thinking about different approaches, think about different ways to write your essay. Does it have to be written from your point of view? Could you write the essay as though others were watching you and inferring things about the impacts only for your voice to come in at the very end to reveal what the experience really meant to you? Could you start at the end or outcome of an experience and work your way backward to the naivety you had at the beginning of the experience? Could you write about the impacts first and only reveal what caused these impacts at the very end?
Collegebasics has many articles about writing application essays, some particularly about getting started. Be sure to heck these out.