As we near the midway point of the month of September, the college essay is on the minds of high school seniors. Last week, one of my colleagues and I had the opportunity to conduct an Essay Writing Workshop at a high school in Connecticut, where we met with senior English classes throughout the day and talked about how the college essay is used in the application review process. In addition to sharing some sample essays and stories from our own experiences reading essays, we also were able to answer a lot of questions regarding the essay. Among the most common questions: How do I get started?
In many areas of my own life, “getting started” can be the most difficult step in the process. For example, I know I should go for a run after work, but finding the willpower to drag myself off of the couch can be difficult on some (many…) nights. Once I get into the run, it’s not so bad. In fact, I often end up enjoying the run itself, and at the end of it, I am glad that I did it.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by this point, I think that you can look at the college essay in the same way that I look at my after-work exercise routine. For many students, the most difficult part is getting started. Once they get going, these students realize they DO have something to say and are able to get their ideas across in their own voice.
But what topic do you choose? That remains the most significant barrier keeping students from getting started. First of all, you have to commit some time to thinking about it. It’s not going to get done if you keep putting it off! If you truly have no idea what to write about, begin by looking at the five Common Application essay prompts (scroll down a bit in the linked post to get to them). Do any of those prompts immediately appeal to you? Does a topic come to mind from your own life that fits in with one of those prompts? If yes, just start writing! Your initial draft doesn’t have to be your final essay – in fact, it may not look anything like your final essay – but getting something written down will really help you to move forward. If none of the prompts immediately appeal to you, one thing you can do is try to brainstorm for ideas based on two or three of the prompts, and then choose your favorite idea and start writing whatever comes to mind. Again, getting something down on paper (or on Microsoft Word) will move you beyond the “getting started” stage and hopefully things will begin to flow from there.
A lot more to come on the college essay. In upcoming posts, we’ll talk about the way we use the essay in the admission process, and things you can do to help yours stand out. Stay tuned!