5 Tips to Start Tackling your Common App Essays Junior Spring
“What,” you cry, “There’s too much on my plate: AP exams, SATs, and all those courses I’m supposed to get A’s in. There is no way I’m going to write my essays junior spring!”
I get it. I know – from 3 kids of my own who’ve been through this process (the youngest is waiting right now to hear from colleges), and dozens more I work with every year – that college application essays are the last things you want to be thinking about. But great application essays take time and planning, so it pays to start early. Here are 5 tips to get you started, and to make the most of your application essays next fall:
1. Write every day. College applications require lots of essays, not just one! There’s the Common Application, plus most colleges require separate Supplements; separate essays for state universities and private colleges; financial aid applications and more. It’s a lot of writing. And college is writing-intensive too. Experts say that writing 300 or more words a day (even about how ridiculous all of this is!) will start your creative engines burning and will produce better writing all around.
2. Brainstorm the 5 types of application essays. Pretty much any college admission essay that gets thrown at you falls into one of 5 buckets:
- Defining Moments
- Issues that matter to you
- Why I want to attend College X
So in that new journal, where you’re writing every day, start exploring possible topics for each of them.
3. Research colleges. Each college application is a conversation between you and a specific college – about who you will be as a member of that college community. To make those conversations matter, really get to know the colleges you are applying to – follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and check out their videos. Explore different college majors; look at the requirements at each of them. Put all that in your journal too. Remember the more you research each place, and choose places that are a good fit, the more your application for admission will connect with the reader.
4. Don’t worry about your grades and SAT scores. Well not for the essay, anyway! If you think about the Common Application as a story about you, other parts of the application will show who you are as a student, or an athlete or artist. The role of the essay is to reveal your character. What are the everyday stories that show who you are as a human being? Often it’s really simple stuff that you might take for granted. Try this: write “my life in 3 sentences” three times, using different details each time, and you have 9 possible topics. What comes out next is probably a great topic too!
5. Do something new. Get out of your usual routines; challenge what you already know. Introduce yourself to someone you see all the time but never talk to; help your neighbor carry out the trash; or play a new instrument. Watch yourself doing this new thing, and write down what you see about yourself from this new perspective. College is all about trying new things, so you are on your way!