Sunday, June 14, 2009

College Applications: The Essays

Junior year, I was told by my darling college counselor to start writing my college application essays over the summer. I had heard far-fetched stories of students who finished all of their essays and short answer responses over the summer and lived carefree lives as seniors for the rest of the year, but instead I chose to write the bulk of my applications during the school year and suffer.

And actually, it wasn't a bad idea. I stressed over my imperfect essays for months, only to finally submit them with three clicks of a mouse and never open up those documents ever again. For those rising seniors who are starting to think about what to write on their college applications, I have a few words of advice (words of wisdom? I'm not so sure about that):
  1. You will change as a person throughout the year, so expect your essays to change too. I never thought my priorities would change in six months, but I knew in December that I was not the same person that I was in July. You might think you're getting a headstart by finishing your Common Application essay in July, but you might think the essay wasn't "you" anymore by September. That's okay -- be flexible.
  2. Reuse essays whenever you can to save time. I used my Common Application essay for my University of Southern California essay by tweaking the words. Just make sure you're always answering the prompt.
  3. Those "Why X School?" essays are a pain, but be sincere anyway. Don't be generic about why you want to attend the school -- be passionate and specific and imagine yourself as a student there. Show them that you belong and will thrive there.
  4. If you have a college counselor or teacher willing to read your essays, please let them. I had a classmate who didn't allow her college counselor to read a single one of her essays or responses. Even if you choose not to follow your teacher or counselor's advice, take advantage of it if it's available to you! I realized early on that my counselors and teachers could provide me perspectives on my essays that I couldn't see before.
  5. Write about a specific moment or event. At least, for private colleges and universities, it's easier to see the "real" you and not a rundown of your achievements if you write about a specific moment that impacted you or shaped you. Everyone likes anecdotes, right?
  6. Don't panic if you don't know what to write about. If you experience something this summer that could potentially become a good essay, jot it down in your notebook! Brainstorming and letting the prompt topic sit in your head for a few days do wonders.
  7. Don't offend the reader. Taken straight from my college counselor's mouth, don't write about the guns you're going to bring into your dorm room or your support of the Ku Klux Klan (I'm totally exaggerating, but you get the gist).
  8. Proofread carefully. Your counselor or teacher or parent or friend or sibling is not your proofreader -- you are. Print out a draft and read over it while marking the mistakes and corrections.
  9. After submission, relax and walk away from the computer. Well, you should still open up the submitted application to check for any errors, but don't keep revisiting the document.
I had a lot of fun writing the college application essays, but I may just be saying that in rosy retrospection. Good luck, m'dears!

Miss Couturable
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