How to Write the College Admissions Essay: 7 Tips to Help You Stop Stressing and Get it Done
In the past, you’ve probably leaned on procrastination to write your English essay at the 19th hour. Nothing beats writing under pressure, right?
Well, your college essay is a different story. For your college essay, you should be going for slow and steady, not one or two overnight writing sessions. This is your opportunity to show the college admissions team who you are and what makes you unique. By giving yourself enough time to plan, structure, write, and revise your essay, you know you’re bringing your best.
Here are 7 ways to simplify the writing process.
1. Use your support network
Get help and ideas from friends and family. At the dinner table, tell your family about some of the essay prompts you’re considering. Ask them what they think. At school, ask your friends what they’re writing their essay about. Sometimes, hearing someone else’s take on a prompt will inspire an idea that’s unique to your story and situation.
If you know any recent high school graduates - siblings, cousins, friends and neighbors - ask them what was the hardest part of writing their college essay. See if they have any advice that will help you as you’re moving forward.
2. Keep a journal or notes for ideas on the fly
Once you’ve selected your schools and preferred prompts, keep a note in your phone for when ideas come up. Using an app like Evernote, you can create a folder for each college with different prompts and essay supplements, so as ideas come up you can add them to the note or folder, and it’ll be easier to keep track of your brainstorming.
3. Schedule time on your calendar
Writing your college essay feels like something you’ll get around to eventually, especially early on in the fall semester. Add a set time on your calendar or planner to work on your essay. Maybe you’ll use your walk home from school to reflect on your personal story, or take advantage of study hall to write out a rough outline.
The best way to keep from getting distracted is to set an alarm or timer in your phone for how long you plan to work on your essay. Sometimes the added pressure of knowing you only have 20 minutes will clear up your writer’s block .
Another way to set aside time is to create reminders in your phone throughout the day or week. So when you’re watching Netflix at 9pm on a Tuesday, you can passively brainstorm if you’re feeling creative. Or when you’re in the car on the way to your grandma’s house and the reminder goes off, you can open your notes app and type until ideas start to form.
4. Write every day. (It’s easier than you think).
You don’t have to write 500 words every single day. Take out your phone or open a Word document and type, stream of consciousness, helping your brain connect the dots even when you don’t realize it.
Many writers attribute their daily writing habit as a key step to becoming a stronger writer. Even writing with the intent of journaling about your day or how you’re feeling about the college process is more beneficial than going a week or more without writing anything at all.
5. Set deadlines for yourself.
You don’t want to wait until the last minute to write. Sure, pressure helps with writing sometimes, but you’ll have enough pressure on your shoulders. Set a timeline for when to select your topic, when to have an outline, and when you want to have your rough draft ready.
6. Find a friend to hold you accountable.
Pair up with your best friend and keep each other accountable, reminding you where you should be in the process and offering to edit each other’s essays.
Note: please do not take any information from your friend’s essays. You are only sharing to help each other have a successful college future, you don’t want to miss out on opportunities for something like plagiarism. That’s something that follows you everywhere.
7. Give time to revise
Give yourself revision time means that by the time you have to hit submit, you’ll be handing something in that you’re proud of. Like getting advice from your loved ones on which topic to select or which story to include, you’ll also want to get their feedback on your essay. Some questions you’ll want to ask include:
Does my essay sound like me? Am I writing in my own voice?
Are there any pieces I am missing? Are there any parts of the story I might want to leave out or spend more time describing?
You’re not alone
Your friends, family, and teachers want to see you succeed. If you’re stuck or struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for support. Also, remember that many of your peers are going through the same process. Vent when you need to vent, encourage your classmates when they’re feeling down, and remind yourself that the college admissions process will be behind you before you know it.