You’ve been around at least 17 or 18 years. Something’s happened.
Think about that story you never get tired of repeating, or an unforgettable conversation you had with a random stranger. Have you ever made a mistake, suffered a public humiliation, or taken advantage of an unexpected opportunity?
Your experiences may not be action-adventure movie material, but they’re still meaningful enough to write about. Stressed-out, overworked college admissions counselors don’t want to read another essay about a teenager who sailed around the world helping the downtrodden. They’ve read enough of those.
Here’s what they haven’t read: your story.
Leave your room. Go for a walk, run, or bike ride. Look around. What do you see that makes you happy, frustrated, inspired? Are you struck by a memory of a person, place, or event? Write down what comes to mind. You just might discover your essay topic.
Believe it or not, writing your college essay first can actually help you decide where to apply. If the Common App essay prompts make you cringe, it’s because they demand deep introspection, which can feel uncomfortable.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer. You’re the only one who can accurately describe your background, beliefs, successes, and failures. Once you’ve taken the time to really think about your responses to these questions, you’ll be better prepared to research and recognize which schools are a good fit for you.
The real waste of time is filling out a dozen applications only to get stuck on the “why this school?” essay. Don’t be the person who focuses on the wedding venue, cake, and honeymoon, but forgets to get to know the person she’s marrying. Figure out what you want first.
You have homework, a job, extracurricular and volunteer activities, a social life, and/or a strict commitment to after-school laziness. Clearly, you haven’t a second to spare.
Your packed schedule is exactly why now is the best time to get to work on your college essay. It’s no secret that the busiest people are the most productive. Think about the times you’ve sat through an endless class or lecture. No matter how hard you try to distract yourself by focusing on something other than how bored you are, you can’t.
Right now you’re on the go nonstop with a million things on your mind. Take advantage of your energized mental state by pouring your thoughts into your college essay. What do you love or hate about your job? What inspires, infuriates, and puzzles you about the people, places, and things you encounter every day? What creative or constructive thing has unexpectedly resulted from your devotion to laziness?
Squeeze in time for your essay now before the pressure of fast-approaching college deadlines mounts.
Teachers and guidance counselors can be an invaluable resource, but the time they can devote to a single student is limited. Depending on where you attend school, a single guidance counselor might have dozens, or even several hundred, students vying for his or her attention.
You might not believe it, but there are people (other than parents), including older siblings, family friends, and mentors who would be happy to help. All you have to do is ask.
Answering endless college-related questions from every adult you encounter can be stress inducing. Turn the conversation around, and interview them about their college experience. Maybe they graduated from a school you’re applying to or majored in a subject that interests you. You never know what you might learn.
You do your best writing under pressure. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that this is true, and you’re one of the rare souls immune to the panic of procrastination, the relentless pleading of parents, and the need for sleep. Even so, you still might want to reconsider the wisdom of putting all your eggs in the all-nighter basket.
Unlike high school, there isn’t another test, quiz, or paper down the road to raise your average. Your college essay takes real thought, and you only get one chance to press send. Admissions counselors should read the best essay you can write – not the best you can write minutes before a midnight deadline.
Bragging about pulling an all-nighter might feel good, but gloating about finishing your essay way before it’s due is awesome.
The deadline for most early-decision applications is November 1. (It’s November 17.)
With an endless amount of great TV to watch, it’s no wonder you don’t want to waste time on your college essay.
The good news? You’re part of a generation of expert multitaskers. Watching TV and writing your college essay aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, TV and movies can be a source of inspiration that can help you answer the Common App prompts.
Pay attention to the challenges the characters face. Which scenarios resonate with you? Do you get upset or motivated by the injustices you see on the screen? Do you love comedy, drama, sci-fi, animation, history, or documentaries? Do you want to act, direct, write, create special effects, critique, or simply be an audience member? Your answer could be the basis for your essay.
Emulate the creativity you see on the screen by telling your story in an engaging, compelling, binge-worthy manner.
There’s nothing better than sleep. Except maybe binge-watching TV while eating fried chicken and biscuits.
If you could manage to write your essay while snoozing, there’d be nothing to discuss here. However, if you aren’t blessed with a gift for sleep-writing, you might want to set aside an alert hour or two each day for your essay.
Sleep is wonderful, but it’s also a notorious form of procrastination. Eventually, you’ll wake up and realize that you still have that pesky essay to write. Get it done, and you’ll sleep sounder than ever.
When you’re dozing off, take note of what you’re obsessing, dreaming, or agonizing about. Everything is material.
Numbers, not words, are your passion. You can design an app, but have no flair for writing. Don’t be so hard on yourself. By the time you’re a senior in high school, chances are you can put together 650 clear, concise words. That’s all you need.
No one is expecting a graduate-level thesis or the next great piece of classic literature. Forget about flowery phrases, multi-syllabic words, or obscure metaphors. Instead, tell a story like you would to a friend. Get attention with a great opening sentence, fill the middle with specific details, and finish with an upbeat or unexpected ending.
Unless you’re planning to be an English/Communications/Creative Writing major, focus on letting admissions know the who, what, and why of you rather than trying to impress them with your writing acumen.
Don’t give up. More and more, schools are moving away from ACT/SAT scores as a determining factor in admissions. Many schools offer a test-optional application.
That said, without scores, it becomes even more important to use your essay as an opportunity to show that you are much more than a test score or transcript.
If you’re fortunate enough to have great test scores, don’t use them as an excuse to slack on your essay. Numbers can’t, and won’t, tell your story.
Now we’re getting somewhere. You’re being honest.
If everyone told the truth, you’d realize that no one wants to write a college essay. Even the most passionate scribes dread this task. It’s paralyzing to think you have to craft the perfect essay so you can get into the perfect school and have the perfect life.
Guess what? Real-life flawed people are going to be reading your essay. They aren’t looking for perfection because they know it doesn’t exist, even on the most impressive transcript. They want to know who you are and what motivates you to throw off the blanket, press pause on the TV, and get going each day.
Be honest. Be yourself. And don’t hesitate to ask for help.
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