Getting Started on Your College Essay

It seems like summer has just started, and you may be tempted to just spend your time by the pool or at the beach. However, this is a great time to get a jump start on your college application. In fact, the Common Application is now available. I recommend you start your application, and start working on your essay. The Common Application has a short answer, approximately 150 words elaborating on an activity (it used to read what is your most meaningful activity and why, in now reads “Please briefly elaborate on one of your activities.”) and the longer essay or personal statement. This is very broad, and the sixth option is a “topic of your choice.” Since the best writers are those who re-write, make certain to give yourself enough time.

I realize that it is a very intimidating task to sit down and try to wrap up your life in a nice little bow and between 250 and 500 words. Don’t worry, they aren’t expecting you too. However, you do need to give them a reason to accept you, and just as importantly, do not give them any reasons to reject you. Recently, there was a great guest post on The Choice, a college admissions Blog. I highly recommend reading it. Martha Merrill, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Connecticut College wrote about what she was looking for in an essay and gave some general tips. One of the most important tips she gave was that there is no formula for a good essay. In fact, since it needs to be your voice coming through, it should be an essay that only you could have written. Another piece of good advice she gave was to pick a mundane topic and bring it to life. Read the full text of her post here.

If you are having trouble getting started, view some of our previous articles on brainstorming the essay and our big list of questions. You will also want to view advice from a former director of admissions and possibly read some sample essays and his comments. Remember, when you are reading the sample essays you are just trying to learn how an admission officer views those essays and not use them as a template for your own essay, since the best essays are intensely personal and you could not just copy the form of another essay. Most importantly, just get started. You need to write something, and then you can revise it and make it in to a good essay. Your first attempt should not be your final attempt. You may want to write a few different essays, and then pick the one that you like the best. Most likely you will need to write a few different essays anyway, as many colleges have supplements where they ask you specific questions or for an additional writing sample.

When you are done with the essay, put it down for a couple of days and then reread it with fresh eyes. Also, be sure to have someone else read it. Do they get a good sense of what you are like as a person? If one of your friends read it, would they say, “Yeah, that’s you.” While it is important to have others help you edit the essay and give you suggestions, ultimately, it is your essay and needs to be in your voice. Accept constructive criticism, but don’t let others rewrite your essay. This fall is going to be a very stressful time. Get started on your essay now. When September and October roll around, you will be glad you did.

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