Just Do It: How to Write Stellar College Essays
School is just around the corner, and your high school student may be fretting more about college essays than senior year. Balancing college applications and school work can be a challenge, but having a plan of attack can take some of the stress out of the essay process. Now is the right time to get a head start on those college essays to allow for time for revision before they are submitted. If you or your student is not sure how to begin, we have helpful ideas for writing essays that can grab the attention of admissions counselors.
You Do You
College essays are one of the main tools that offer a glimpse into who you are as a person and as a student. Admissions counselors read your words to learn about you as an individual, not just to see how well you can write or follow directions. Be sincere and honest in your essay. You don’t want to brag about your achievements, but you also should not hide them. You may even want to discuss how you overcame a challenge rather than go on about an accomplishment. Find a nice balance of making it personal without sounding too casual or boastful.
Getting Down to Business
Knowing how to start writing can be overwhelming, but it isn’t impossible. These tips can serve as a checklist to make it easier to tackle college essays:
- Have a plan –create a database or make a list of where you are applying, what the application requirements are, and the deadlines for submission. Keep it organized so you know what to submit first, if they use the Common application, and how many essays you need to write. A spreadsheet is a great tool to accomplish this stage of planning to see at a glance what is outstanding or should be a priority.
- Brainstorm – think of a few topics that can work, or consider which prompts you have and how you might answer them. If you aren’t sure, ask your parent or friend for their comments about your ideas. You should devote some time and energy to this stage to find an angle that is uniquely you. Think of it this way: at least a thousand students may be writing about why they want to go to a certain school. What can you do to make your answer stand out from the rest?
- Get busy – make a rough draft or create an outline, even if just to hash out your ideas into essay form. You may even choose to write your key points on note cards so you can physically organize your thoughts before your write your first draft. The goal isn’t a finished product at this stage; instead, get it on paper or in a document as a starting point. Your rough draft should be exactly that – rough – so do not expect perfection. You should be focusing more on content rather than mechanics.
- Ask for help – this is where parents and friends can help you. After you have your first draft, ask them to read it and provide clear and honest feedback. They don’t have to get out a red pen, but their making notes of problem areas or unclear organization is constructive. Another pair of eyes can catch mistakes you may not see.
- Fix it up – make any changes or edits, then go back for another reading. You may want to take out any platitudes or clichés which can come across as trite. Keep your writing precise, concise, and original. You may want to go back to family and friends for another read-through. See if they have any other comments or suggestions for improvement.
- Final draft – once you have your college essays where you want them, proofread them one last time. If you are counting, that means you have at least three drafts per essay. This last edit is for spelling and grammar mistakes that your spellcheck may miss, but an admissions counselor may not. You may want to take a break from editing and go back for your final read-through. After stepping away, you may catch errors you overlooked.
Believe in Yourself (And Your Student)
Parents, you can guide your children, remind them, and support them, but you should not write their college essays for them. Students, you can do this. If you stay focused and organized, you can handle these essays and your school work at the same time. With a little bit of prep work, you can be well on your way to crafting fantastic essays that let colleges know you are ready for the next step of your education.