Last week we began talking about the benefits of starting the college application process during the summer of junior year. In looking at the process in terms of separate chunks, our focus today is the essay.  So how should you get started on your essay?  Read the prompts on the Common Application webpage and start picking out the ones you like best.  If you have an inkling that you might apply to some schools that do not use the Common Application, then check their admissions literature to read those prompts too.  Pick out the writing topic or topics that will give you your best essay, and follow these steps:


  1. Select a Topic – Remember, that while you are writing on a selected topic, the real topic of the essay is you. Colleges want to learn about you, so select a topic that feels meaningful and can best reveal your true interests and values. The topic need not be a grand idea. Some of the best essays are about seemingly trivial concepts that are handled uniquely and interestingly by the author. For example, rather than picking a topic pertaining to a large idea, i.e. making the world a better place. Wouldn’t it be interesting to write about something that motivates or inspires you each day? Or how about writing on a subject that you think about most of the time? These types of topics will be easier for you to write about and probably lend themselves to a more interesting and authentic essay.


  1. Brainstorm – Brainstorming is a great way to generate ideas. All you need is a paper and pencil, or a computer. Take two minutes and jot down everything that comes to mind when you ask yourself questions such as


  • I’m really good at…
  • I’m obsessed with…
  • I used to think…


Additionally, make lists of issues that are important to you and experiences that influenced you and made you the person you are.


  1. Develop your Topic – With all of this information, you’ll start to see themes emerging. Choose those themes that are relevant to your topic and start drafting stories. Each of us has learned to write in different ways, and so there is no right or wrong approach. The bottom line is that colleges want to learn about you, so write from the heart. Craft these stories in a way that connects them to the topic you’ve chosen, but also reveals who you are. Let your personality shine.


  1. Drafts – This is what you’ll be working on throughout the summer. During the drafting process (and you should work through many drafts – at least 7 or 8), you’re wanting to focus on organization, mechanics and grammar, and polishing the verbiage so that it reveals your authentic self. By the end of summer, your essay should be vivid and meaningful. Ask someone you trust, who has a good grasp of grammar and spelling, to read your essay and give you feedback. Continue to edit your essay with the goal of having a finished version by the time you start school in the fall.


Writing your essay over the summer leaves plenty of time to do a good job while avoiding the stress of feeling rushed. In fact, putting the essay away for a week or two between drafts can be extremely helpful. When you pick it up again, you’ll see it with fresh eyes.