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Essay Writing

Preparing for College Essay Writing over the Summer

college essays May 01, 2017

The Common Application essay prompts are out, and Summer is a great time to start writing!

Junior year should undoubtedly be spent focusing on ACT/SAT test scores and overall GPA. Junior level classes provide the best understanding of a student’s academic capabilities because they are often the most challenging. They also give colleges an understanding of your most recent academic performance. However, after finals are over and the June ACT/SAT has past, it is time to start thinking about the actual college application.

The summer after junior year is the best time to write admissions essays for several reasons:

  1. There are more essays to write than you think! The Common Application (or the Coalition Application) has only one essay, but many schools require one (or more) supplemental essay(s). These can be short answers such as Yale’s 200 character (35 word) questions, mini essays of 100-200 words, or full length 500-600 word essays. If you are serious about getting accepted into a good college, you need to take each of these essays seriously as well. These are the questions the college specifically wants answers to. Keep in mind, shorter does not necessarily mean easier. Longer essays can be almost as involved as the Common Application essays. University of Chicago’s 500 word supplemental essay looks for a truly unique response to topics such as vestigial structures, alternate worlds, and creating your own idiom.
  2. Quality writing takes time! Starting early means you have time to mull over the topics and find something impactful on which to write. Most importantly, it gives time for multiple, careful edits. Each word should be chosen purposefully, the entire essay should flow seamlessly, and the reader should be captivated. This takes time. I’ve helped many applicants who wait until the fall, after senior year has started, to write their essays. When they start, they think they have plenty of time, but then homework and extracurricular activities start. November 1st (or January 1st) arrives before they know it. Many applicants are caught editing the night before (or even the day) the essays are due. Some applicants ultimately remove schools from their lists because they cannot find time to complete the additional essays.
  3. Identify any shortcomings in your application early! Summer is also a good time to look at the big picture of your entire application and take note of any weaknesses. It’s not too late to add community service hours. You can work on a project that demonstrates your passions or read a piece of literature that opens your mind to new ideas. A great essay topic may even organically emerge!

Now is the time to read the new essay prompts. Unlike the college-specific supplemental essays, however, the specific Common Application prompts are not important. They are intentionally broad so that you can find a prompt to fit your story instead of the other way around. The most important thing is to convey who you are as a person and what matters most to you. Use the prompts as a way to spark potential topics. Explore them in the back of your mind as you go about your day. Let the ideas percolate to the surface. Writing starts in June!!

2017 Common Application Essay Prompts:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]

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