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Here's to a stress-free and successful application season.
The college admissions essay is in many ways its own form. You are both writing about something else and trying to sell yourself as a person to someone you don't know all that well - the college admissions officer.
Your biggest challenge is to be engaging and original in a way that doesn't alienate your reader. The best way to achieve this is to write about something that you believe in wholeheartedly. Write about something you’re interested in, not something you think will interest an admissions officer. Make sure the story belongs wholly to you.
Now write the first draft with your heart, not with your head. Try a free-writing exercise. Set a timer for 20 minutes and start thinking about your topic. Once your timer starts, start typing away and don’t stop until the full 20 minutes have passed. Even if you have to write the same word over and over again to keep the momentum going, an exercise like this will free up your mind and yield some surprisingly original ideas. This is the material from which you can craft a more precise essay, but the exercise is vital - it will give you concepts and experiences you hadn't thought of, or wouldn't have been able to plan from a more rigorous outline.
Once you’re ready to try a more fully developed draft, stick to writing that is descriptive. Show, don’t tell. Don’t write “I got wet in the rain” when you can be “weighed down with a waterlogged sweater.” This kind of evocative, sensory language can paint a picture of you for a stranger, or better yet, a college admissions officer. It’s something the reader can remember you by when the time comes to make an admissions decision.
When you’ve finished, read it aloud to yourself to get a good sense of its rhythm. Are all the sentences too short, or too long? Does it feel like it drags? Or does it sound animated or energetic? Try it. Because if you don’t like the sound of your own essay, no one else is going to either.
Above all, don't be afraid to throw away what you've written and start again. You will have learned immensely about what you are trying to say just from having done the first draft. This essay should not be something you write once. Ideally, it should be the first piece of writing you do ten drafts of. You will be amazed how much you can improve on your first draft once you've identified what it is you're really trying to say.
Then say it in as few words as possible.
Chances are, your days are already pretty packed: classes, extracurriculars, seeing friends, spending time with family… and now throw on top of that applying to college. Senior year can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to writing your personal statement or other college admissions essays. And while you’ve certainly written essays on the Civil War, Einstein, or plant biology, a personal essay is a different animal.
Instead of trying to brainstorm an essay that matches an existing question from your school of choice, try working backward. Think of a personal experience that moved you or changed you … then tailor that to answer the question. Let’s say you want to write about your experience playing the flute for the first time with a large orchestra. This story answers a lot of possible essay questions: what was a personal activity of special significance, or an accomplishment you are proud of—even an adversity you have dealt with. This one story can be tweaked into the many essays your colleges require.
It’s great to get feedback from a friend or a teacher on a draft you’ve written, but don’t overdo it. A common mistake is an essay written “by committee” – too many people have read it and the writer is trying to please too many different opinions. In the end, you’re left with an essay with all the life sucked out of it. Find one person you trust—preferably not a family member or friend—and let that individual be your sounding board.
Make sure to set aside a little bit of time every day to work on your essay. It’s better to spend 20 minutes on it daily than 10 hours right before it’s due. You’ll find that visiting it every day will help your ideas flow and connect better, give you perspective on what you’ve already written, and reduce the chances of sloppy mistakes.
Many of you early applicants will be hearing back from your top choices this week, and just in case you find that thin envelope, CEO is extending a new offer to help you get the rest of your applications in order quickly.
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While you're at it, here are our top 3 tips on what to do if you've been rejected from your top choice:
1. Itemize Your Workload
There’s going to be a lot to do – probably somewhere between six and ten applications in two weeks’ or a month’s time. So before you begin, list all of your work and make sure you have a single source to work from, instead of ten different applications in a pile. Handling such a workload is all about managing your time appropriately.
2. Find other options that are comparable to your first choice
Your first choice is gone. Let it go. But the good news is that there are other options out there that are actually very similar to your top choice in many important ways. In many respects, you’ll even find that they’re better. So do your research if you haven’t already, and find out what else is out there. If you were aiming for Amherst, consider Williams and Brown. If you were aiming for Chapel Hill, think of Ann Arbor and Berkeley. Any one of these places might surprise you if you look a bit further into their many nooks and crannies.
3. Repurpose, Repurpose, Repurpose
You’ve got a lot of prompts, but remember that those essays can be handled with fewer essays than you think. After you’ve itemized your workload, consolidate it. Find an efficient way to get things under control, and you may be surprised at how quickly and accurately you can knock these essays out without over-exerting yourself or spreading your interests too thin.
That's where CEO comes in! We'll make sure to save you time and stress, enabling you to focus on writing your best quality essays instead of spreading yourself too thin. Good luck moving forward!