College Essays in the Spring

While Junior’s heads are stuck in spring break plans, prom dresses and upcoming AP and IB exams, counselors have begun seminars to get them thinking about college application plans. Not only is it important to get recommendation letter requests out, but it also can’t hurt to be thinking about essay plans. Drafts of the new common application questions are out now. Take a few minutes to read the questions and brainstorm some possible responses.

However, at the beginning of the process, I would suggest to stay away from answering the questions. Using an empty notebook or your word processor, make some lists about things that set you apart. Recall some interesting events from your recent past. Think about what you want to sell about yourself. Don’t self-edit. Instead, just scribble out some lists of potentials. Share with mom or dad. Then put the list away until July, with perhaps one or two return visits to add to your earlier thoughts.

My advice to juniors planning to apply to multiple four-year schools, both public and private, is to plan to write at least four different essays. The first one written will be absolute drivel, and will be easy to plant with your tomatoes in the backyard. The second one may be slightly improved, and you’ll be able to work with it. By the third and fourth, you’ll be on a roll and will be writing on topics and with material that colleges will care about. With three really good essays, you’ll have one for the central Common Application question and two others for the supplemental applications. You should prepare have the malleability to move those between the 250-300 word count and the 50-100 count.

Occasionally, I work with students who decided that the college search process means applying to all schools on the East coast, something in Texas and one school in California. If this describes your own college plans, double the amounts I’ve laid out above.

And, before you get writing, look at some of my earlier posts about the essay to both save yourself some pain in rewriting and to get started on the right foot.