The college essay has become almost mythological, taking on such attention in the college planning process that students get stressed and have trouble even starting the writing process. Or, they try to embellish and enhance the truth to fit a narrative that is not their own. Here are three main tips on the college essay, and in this case, the common application essay for you to consider:
- It’s about time. If you wait until September of 12th grade, and if you are applying early, you have to finish your application before November 1. Those weeks go by quickly, and many students end up squeezing in edits last minute. Instead, use that time in your 11th grade in May or June when the English teacher gives you free time to start your essay. See if you can finish it over the summer. Why not? Starting in September, there is a time warp that happens, where things are happening fast, but in slow motion, and before you know it, you are hitting submit.
- It’s about your point. What is the point of the college essay? Two simple points: can you write well, and can you share something that increases the odds of an admission officer wanting to admit you? If you do those two things well, your essay will help your chances of admission. How to do this? With a 650 word limit, you have about 5 paragraphs to work with, which means some kind of intro, a conclusion, and three body paragraphs. With this structure, you can frame out your narrative. What compelling event or idea is worth sharing that helps an admission officer learn more about you, your character, or your life in a way that pertains to admissions? Creativity does not give you permission to stray from relevance. But, embellished truth is not creativity. Start with what you are compelled to write, and spend more time refining than second guessing your topic. A well refined essay with a lot of thought is more important, in many cases, than the topic itself. Most importantly, don’t have a million editors! Pick a small team of people who are familiar with the process to help you, and don’t feel the need to get everyone you know to provide input.
- It’s about your narrative. The essay, when abstract and irrelevant, even if well written, does not help shape the admission officer’s understanding of your narrative. The following statement: my name is, I go to this high school, I wish to study this major, I hope to pursue this career or careers, requires some careful planning. Especially if you want to integrate it into your essay, which you should. Yes, you can be creative and should not write a boring autobiography. Instead, use this time to show parts of you that you wish to share, things you have done that define you, people you have met that inspire you, or ideas you have that you hope will change the world for the better. Just remember, the admission officer is reading this in the context of your application to determine college fit and college readiness. While you have the supplemental essays to add more intrigue into your application, they are often either comprised of very simple questions like “why this college” that spark canned responses or abstract questions like “you have 150 words, take a risk.” So, depend on your essay to be a focal point.