With college living on the horizon, I'd like to take a moment and look back on what I was doing this time last year. A familiar image comes to mind: standing ankle-deep in piles of college pamphlets, scouring college application essay help books with pages of essay drafts crowding my computer desktop. The summer before senior year of high school was a thoughtful one, to say the least. But this early preparation into the college application season is what ended up saving me much more time (and sleep) down the road in the fall.
I'd like to share 5 things I did the summer before my senior year of high school that prepared me better for college apps and, ultimately, helped me get into the school of my dreams.
#1 - The who, what, where, why, and how
Have you found schools you want to apply to? Do they have the major/sport/extracurriculars that you enjoy? Have you visited or can you visit any of those colleges within the next few months? What particular thing about this school caught your eye and helped make your decision to apply?
The answers to these questions will help get you excited to apply to these colleges. If you haven't already created an account on the College Board website, do so now. It is a fantastic resource for finding colleges that suit your interests, and provides not only all of the deadlines for the applications, but shows you how your test scores/GPA/etc. line up with the expectations of those schools. If everything checks out, you can add that college to an ongoing list of schools.
What's more, the "Compare Colleges" feature allows you to compare up to 3 colleges side by side, identifying namely the size of the schools, their costs, and their GPA/test score requirements. By far, getting all this information up front will help you form your essays in the future.
#2 - Ready, set, write!
While I may be an incoming creative writing major, writing college essays was not a cakewalk. What you need to understand from the get-go is that college application essays are not like your average persuasive essay. They are often presented as open-ended, vague questions that leave a lot of room for you to talk about yourself. Oh, and you have between 250 - 600 words to show what kind of person you are.
But with all that freedom, how do I know where to start? You ask.
Whether you climbed Mount Everest at the age of 13 or witnessed an act of kindness on your way to the grocery store, describe how an event impacted you and what you learned from it. The key here is to not be afraid to paint yourself in an unpleasant light; college admissions officers know that people make mistakes, but if you show them how you learned from yours, it will display what a thoughtful individual you are.
With that said, NOW is the time to write, write, write. If you have a topic, roll with it, writing out every detail of that event and how you felt at each stage of it. Don't worry if you read it again later and it doesn't look good; if you even find only one phrase or sentence that you like, delete the rest and start again. The beauty of drafting is its impermanence; you are in control, and the more you put on paper now, the more your future self will thank you when they (no doubt) get writer's block later.
Getting started now might not sound ideal, but it'll be better to have some drafts and ideas under your belt for when the real essay writing begins from September - November. STARTING EARLY IS KEY TO SUCCESS!
#3 - Examples are a student's best friend
Okay, so you have some drafted pages of childhood memories and lessons, but you still don't know how to put them into essay-form. Now what?
One of the most helpful tips I received for writing these essays was looking up what others looked like and getting a sense of their formatting (thanks, Mom). I'm not advocating plagiarism, because that is downright diabolical. However, some generous students have published their college application essays online for others to get a sense of how they should be worded, and these are probably the greatest resources out there. As previously stated, "BORROWING" WORDS, PHRASES, OR STORIES FROM THESE ESSAYS IS A BAD IDEA AND ILLEGAL. College admissions officers will find out, and all your work will have been for nothing.
#4 - Divine and conquer
When you're writing your essay drafts, really keep in mind what each school is looking for in their application. If you don't know the prompts yet, take a look at each school's mission statement and jot something down. What part of the mission statement resonates with you? How do your personal experiences display your understanding and accomplishment of the mission statement?
Remember, the most important thing about college essays is what each school means to you. Whether you're applying to 4 schools or 14, each one should align with your interests and goals. Also, don't be afraid to get in touch with the admission office of a school your interested in and ask them questions about the process; the schools want people to apply, and it is rare they would turn you down. If you're feeling ambitious, try to get in touch with the Dean of Admissions or Assistant Dean; they know just about everything about the admission process, and will appreciate your initiative.
#5 - Tell me more, tell me more
Always, ALWAYS, ask your teachers for advice. Personally, my senior English class and College Center covered the basics of college applications, but I know this is not necessarily found everywhere. However, teachers at any high school are familiar with the process, as they've no doubt seen countless seniors go through it; and the great thing about teachers is that, more than likely, they love to help their students.
Teachers (or librarians, or any type of teaching professional) are a great resource for editing advice on your essay drafts. I spent nearly every lunch hour of the fall semester writing drafts in my College Center and talking to the counselors, and when I wasn't there I was in my English class listening to my English teacher give me tips for writing my essays. It is a sign of initiative, thoughtfulness, and courage to ask for help when you need it, and it lifts a lot of stress off your shoulders when someone else can give you the answers.
If you want extra help and more essay examples, there are also plenty of books published on the Internet and for sale in stores that give more detail into the do's and don't's of writing essays and which colleges may be right for you. If you are able to get a private college counselor, it is SO worth the investment. Bottom line, there are so many resources for you; you are not alone.
The college application process is daunting, but more likely than not you will come out on top with less stress if you make the right preparations.
Please comment or leave me a message if you have any questions about the process.
Good luck in the next couple of months. You're going to do great!