College Application Essays: Pacing Yourself This Fall

Will you take a risk when you write your essays?

Chances are, your days are already pretty packed: classes, extracurriculars, seeing friends, spending time with family… and now applying to college on top of that. Senior year can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to writing your personal essays. And while you’ve certainly written essays on the Civil War, Einstein, or plant biology, a personal essay is a different animal. It can be time consuming and even emotionally draining, depending on your choice of topic. Make sure to pace yourself accordingly and keep that pile of college essay assignments manageable.

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.

As for topic selection, 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.

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