I nagged you and nagged you to get your application essays done before school starts, but did you listen? Time’s up. Here’s what to do if you’ve spent the summer actually having a good time:
1. Before anything else, make sure you have your list of colleges and have compiled all of their required essays and prompts so you know exactly what you have to write. (Spreadsheets, charts, notebooks: use whatever organizational system works for you, combined with your calendar.) Many colleges want supplemental essays in addition to the main essay. Note application deadlines and list essays in the order they should be done. Count backwards on the calendar and notate each step — and please don’t start with the actual application due date, but about a week before, to allow for unforeseen problems. Trust me: it feels really good to submit well before the due date. You can just feel the weight slide off your shoulders.
2. Main essay first: if you haven’t written this, get it done now, because for most colleges, you won’t be able to apply without it. Look at the Common App and the Coalition App prompts to get you thinking, but remember that each one offers the option of writing on the topic of your choice. Open with a hook and/or create some tension that raises questions (which you will later answer); explain what’s happening/give background; resolve tension/explain what you learned. Common App word limit is 650, but if any of your colleges ask for the Coalition App, keep your essay to 500-550 words so you don’t have to shorten it later. Most college application essays do not have to be 650 words to be effective.
3. Why This College? essays: have you researched your colleges and written down interesting and exciting and most of all, specific information about classes, professors, clubs, etc.? Good, you can use this information for the colleges that ask why you want to go there. To save time, you can start this kind of essay for all of your colleges in the same way: talking about your passions now, how you do the things you love and what you don’t know or have yet to go further; then the second half of the essay is specific to each college. Basic structure for this essay is Here’s What I Love and What I Want to Do With What I Love, followed by That’s Why I’m So Excited About XYZ College Because it Offers me this, that and the other thing. Please, please, please double-check you have the right name of the college before submitting.
4. Blocked? Write an email to a friend just spouting off about the most important things in your life; even your whole life story. You don’t have to send it. Or just walk around your room talking, using a recording app on your phone. Not everyone feels comfortable typing their ideas — some have to talk them out.
Don’t write essays on the application form; write them in a google doc or Word or other document. This way you can share them with others, asking them to take a look and make comments.
Finally, don’t panic. Devote 30 minutes a night, see if that’s a good pace for you, and increase if necessary. If you do a little each night, you’ll get it done. Just don’t keep putting it off. But you know this already, of course. Procrastinators know a lot more than they let on. Time to channel all that energy and get the darn thing done, one essay — even one paragraph — at a time.