As the final days of summer wind down, many rising high school seniors are turning their attention to their college essay. And, as we’ve heard from students visiting our campus the past couple of weeks, they are doing so with varying degrees of success…
Thinking back to my own college search and application process, writing the college essay stands out as one of the more difficult parts of applying for admission. Although I always have enjoyed writing (and was an English major during my undergraduate college years), coming up with my topic and crafting the essay weren’t easy. In fact, I can still clearly remember sitting at my computer looking at a blank page, watching the cursor blink back at me.
So, although my own college essay experience was a number of years ago, I can still relate to the students I’ve spoken to this summer who have expressed the difficulty they’ve had getting their essay started. And while I can’t give you the answer to the topic you should choose for your essay, the following are some thoughts that I hope help you to get started on an essay you’ll be proud of:
Find some time during the final days of the summer to start seriously thinking about your essay, and put something down on paper. Even if it’s just an outline or some notes, getting started now is important. As difficult as it may be to come up with an essay topic or to write an essay that you’re completely happy with, it’s even more difficult if you wait until the week (or the day…) before the application is due. Even if you tend to procrastinate with your schoolwork, don’t do that with your college essay. The writer’s block gets worse the closer you get to the deadline, believe me…
Make it personal
As I always tell students at our campus group information sessions, the best essays we read each year are personal and well-written (more on the “well-written” part in a minute). By “personal,” we don’t mean sharing your deepest, darkest secret with us or anything like that… rather, we’re looking for the essay to be personal in the sense that it tells us something about you that we wouldn’t be able to learn from elsewhere in your application… and it’s an essay that the classmate who sits next to you in Physics couldn’t have also written.
Spelling and grammar count
All of us spend a great deal of time on social media and sending text messages, and unfortunately we’ve seen some Twitter and texting habits make their way into college essays. Remember, your college essay is a formal piece of writing!
Choose a topic you feel comfortable with
At an essay workshop I was at last week, a student told me she was considering changing her essay topic because her friends were telling her that they didn’t like her topic. Having read her essay, I reassured her the topic was just fine… and I would implore you to also choose something to write about that you feel comfortable with, and not feel like you have to follow the crowd and write the “sports essay” or the “service essay” because that’s what everybody else is doing. Pick the topic that best represents who you are to an admission reader who most likely hasn’t had the chance to meet you in person.
I hope this post helps you get started… before you know it, your essay will be done and you’ll be submitting your college applications. Good luck!