It’s that time of year again. Rising seniors are starting to write their essays, or like me, they’ll be waiting till October to start. Having been through all this just a few years ago, I know how difficult it can be to write that essay, to make the admission officers fall in love with you after 500 words. So here are some things I learned in my experience. And if there are any rising seniors from SAS reading this, please say hello! Here we go.
- Above all, start early. Gather all your prompts in one place over the summer and start to think about what you could write. If you think it’ll be easy to leave it until October like I did, think again. Senior year will go by so fast and those deadlines will be looming before you know it. Additionally, if you take a lot of higher level classes, it’s going to be a nightmare to try and juggle extracurriculars, schoolwork, and college essays.
- Space out your work. Don’t try to cram all your essays into one weekend. That definitely won’t work. Maybe set aside a few hours per week
- Take breaks. If you’re at it for hours at a time, you’re definitely not going to be producing your best work. Go outside and take a walk; Maybe inspiration will hit you then.
- Know what you want to convey about yourself and start thinking of examples you could use to get that point across. Make sure to bring out your best qualities. Don’t worry if it’s something weird—uniqueness is greatly appreciated and shows that you’ll contribute to the diversity of the university!
- Have a focus. Don’t try to cram your whole life’s story in 500 words. Scattered writing betrays a disorganized mind.
- Write what you know. This is so important. The admissions officers will be able to sense insincerity a mile away, whereas an honestly written essay on a familiar subject will be able to illustrate you best.
- Know what you cannot write. It’s quite difficult to pass the boundary of what you can write into dangerous territory, but it’s definitely there. Do admission officers really want someone with a history of drug and theft problems at their school? Do they want someone with such serious anxiety problems that they probably can’t handle the academic rigor of their schools? Probably not. Be careful of what you’re telling them about yourself.
- Show, don’t tell. This is also exceptionally important. No one cares when you say “I’m intelligent, hardworking, and good-humored” if you can’t prove that.
- Use an anecdote. In conjunction with the last point, showing is better than telling. Some of the best application essays have taken one or several small events and turned it into a meaningful, heartfelt reflection.
- Let it flow. Don’t censor yourself on the first draft. Don’t try to word everything in the most beautiful way possible (but if you happen to good for you!). Just write everything you can think of on the topic, and then it’s chopping time. You may stumble upon some gems that you wouldn’t have at a 10 word per minute writing speed!
- Get critiques. From teachers, counselors, parents, and peers. It really helps to have a fresh perspective because after a few times reading your own essay it sounds like oatmeal and you don’t know what to make of it.
- Listen, carefully. By which I mean be careful of what you take in. Don’t try to change your essay to please everyone. You don’t have to do anything your reviewers say. My dad told me there was a crucial piece of information I needed to include in one of my essays and although I felt uncomfortable about it I did include it anyway, which was a huge mistake.
- Revise. There’s no way you’ve written a perfect essay on the first draft. Write several drafts, getting feedback in between.
- Proofread. Correct all those grammar mistakes you didn’t catch the first few times. Put yourself in the admission officers’ shoes and see if you like what you read. If so, you’ve written the best, most polished essay you possibly can, and it’s time to submit and cross your fingers!