Last Updated: Sep 14, 2020
This time of year, high school juniors (and even sophomores) start to get nervous. Seniors are either done or nearly done applying to college; some have been admitted to their dream schools, and others have been deferred or outright rejected. College talk is all the rage. It can be overwhelming, confusing, and distressing—but there’s no need to panic. You’re at a different place in your journey, and that’s okay—you can get through this process with minimal stress! One big source of stress is the college application essay, so here’s why now is the best time to get started.
The biggest tip you need
Here’s the #1 tip to help guide you as you start preparing for the application journey: writing a college essay is all about reflection, and right now is a good time to learn how to reflect. Despite what you may have heard, writing is not the most challenging part of the college essay. The tough part is the beginning before you even write one word, when you have to ask: What matters to you and why? It’s a tough question. You might hear, “What’s important?” and think sleep, friends, where the next party is, Netflix, making the varsity team, summer vacation¾you know, normal stuff. To make it even harder, you have to ask yourself why these things are important. That’s what colleges want to know! It’s a lot to ask of yourself, but you really do need to do it because writing your essay will be easier for you if you do.
The other question you have to ask
Once you’ve answered those questions, ask yourself this: what do I want colleges to know about me apart from grades, test scores, activities, and jobs? You might be thinking about all of the great things you’ve done, but please don’t create a list detailing a bunch of experiences, accomplishments, and awards. Instead, to answer this critical question, make a list of traits and characteristics that define you. Are you insightful? Resourceful? Funny? Creative? Kind? Compassionate? Outgoing? Shy? Funny? Colleges want to know what makes you tick, not detailed accounts of your experiences or stuff that’ll already be on your application. If you’re unsure what traits to write about, ask a parent or friend what characteristics they like about you. And here’s the great part: you get to decide which traits are important to you in the end, not them. Once you can answer this question with specific characteristics, you’ll be better prepared to write your college essays this spring and summer.
Go get started
To stand out in your college essay, you need to write something meaningful that highlights a positive trait and personalizes your application. It can be hard to write about yourself, especially when the stakes seem so high, but you can do it. And one thing that makes accomplishing this easier is starting early. If you’re stressed about your college essay now, you’ll only be more stressed if you put it off. That’s why we recommend starting it now, to give yourself plenty of time to make your essay into exactly what you want it to be for your college applications. What are you waiting for? Go get started!