Suggested Timetable for the College Essay Process


1. Create an Initial College List. Introduce your student to College Essay Organizer by putting colleges on her list, knowing that this list will likely change a bit in the weeks and months ahead. Explain that her RoadMap is where you will do all your college essay work together, from beginning to end. Highlight that it will provide all the essay questions, map out a personal strategy for writing the fewest essays possible, and allow you to share and edit drafts.

2. Brainstorm. Send out brainstorming questions to gather raw info about your student. This stage is all about encouraging your student to express herself freely. It is perhaps the most important part of the entire college essay process—without great ideas and details, the essay topics will be bland, and bland topics inevitably breed bland essays.

Find a link to our brainstorming sheet for students here (modify it however you wish):

Tell the student to upload her brainstorming (as a Word doc) under “Add File” next to the Common App Personal Statement, and to then click the Alert symbol and then “Email My Alerts to Counselor.” On your end, you will now see “View File” next to the Common App Personal Statement; download the file and review it on your end. Make notes as needed, upload your new file, and alert your student to review your comments. This is a good introduction for both of you to the process of uploading drafts and using the alert system; it will allow you to save hours of time and avoid confusion as you eventually deal with multiple drafts for multiple questions and colleges.

3. Assign Focused Free Writing. Once you’ve gotten the brainstorming back from your student, you’ll likely have to follow it up with questions that delve deeper into promising topics/themes. Ask her “why” or “how” in order to get more info. For example: “You say you love physics, but don’t go into detail. Tell me why. How do you plan to pursue this passion? Give me specific examples of any relevant experiences.” Again, have the student post this new focused free writing file to the Common App Personal Statement and alert you when ready.

4. Outline. Now that you have the student’s raw, detailed thoughts, it’s time to figure out which topics will work for all the different essays. This is where College Essay Organizer comes into play. Simply reference each student’s RoadMap to determine the specific topics for each of the required essays. For example, if the RoadMap calls for an essay about community, click the orange “See Applicable Questions” button to view the different questions that you can use this community-related essay for. Reading the different questions first will help you determine what direction you can go in for that particular student. The exact essay direction will be based on the student’s unique community-related experiences or ideas, and the various questions that may ask about a specific aspect of community. The student should then write one community-themed essay that addresses all of the different questions (with some modification if needed).

Now that you and your student are referencing College Essay Organizer, you can encourage the student to read the essay samples posted on the RoadMap. These samples will help your student understand the nature of a college essay, which is typically very foreign to applicants.



1. Write the Big Three Essays. There are three essays we typically start with: 1) a character-driven essay for the Common App personal statement; 2) a practical essay about the student’s most significant activity for the short activity essay; and 3) an intellectual interests essay that serves as a foundation for the many questions asking why the student is applying to each college. (Remember to upload all drafts to College Essay Organizer, and use the alert system for this drafting process—it might take a couple times to get used to it, but once you do, you’ll see your old way of emailing drafts back and forth as antiquated.)

2. Write the Intellectual Interests Essay. Have your student research the academic programs for any college that will use the Intellectual Interests essay (according to the student’s RoadMap). You can then modify the foundational Intellectual Interests essay so it directly speaks to each college and each specific question. View this sample essay and special tip for additional insight: 



1. Create and Complete the Common App. It goes live August 1. Have your student create her Common App account and fill out all the pages. Upload the essays in their proper places on the application.

2. Complete the Supplement Forms. Have the student add all the colleges she is applying to and fill out all the basic info on their supplement forms (leaving the essays to be dealt with separately).

3. Customize Each Student’s RoadMap. As the colleges are updated with the new essays for this season, the asterisks will be removed in front of the college names on the RoadMap under “Review These Questions To See If They Apply To You.” For any updated college (it will not have an asterisk), you or the student can go through all questions to ‘Remove’ those that are not relevant to that student (you can add them back if you change your mind). This way whenever you or the student logs into the account, you’ll see all the questions, and only the questions, that the student has to deal with.

4. Work on the Supplement Essays. Now that the Common App Personal Essay, the short activity essay, and the Intellectual Interest essays have been completed, and the new supplements are being released, you can turn to the other essays on the student’s RoadMap. You can go by college (i.e., dealing with all the essays that University X requires—this is a good approach if the student is applying early) or you can go by essay (i.e., reference the essays assigned in the RoadMap and write, say, a community essay that can be used for multiple questions, modifying it as needed for each individual question, and then move on to the next assigned essay).



1. Track Your Progress. Check off “Complete” next to each essay question so you can quickly see what’s finished and what’s left. You can un-check this box at anytime.

2. Work Smarter and Love it. Continue to work on the different drafts, especially for any early decision/early action/rolling decision colleges, and let College Essay Organizer notify you when any slow colleges have finally released their new application questions. Enjoy knowing that all your students’ essay plans and drafts for all their different questions are organized cleanly in one place—one less thing to worry about now that crunch time has arrived.




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