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Get it Done Over the Summer: 9 Tips to Tackling the College Essay

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Get it Done Over the Summer: 9 Tips to Tackling the College Essay

The college essay looms dark and foreboding like the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a path to tackling the monster and the essay. And, it begins in the heat of the summer. I promise you that this is possible even if you’re working as a barista, attending sports camp, or volunteering at a school in Peru. All you need is some planning and guidance and you’ll be on your way to walking into your senior year with the first draft of your college essay complete.


So, here are some tips to get you started:

1. Know your schedule.

Review your summer plans. Are you gone July and August, every weekend, Monday-Friday from 9-5? Take a look and figure out when you’ll have time to work on the essay. It doesn’t have to be hours and hours strung together, just enough to get you started.

2. Seize your snippets of time.

Now let’s use that time you’ve just carved out in #1 for your college essay. While you’re riding public transportation, sitting in the passenger seat on a long road trip, staying up late when the rest of the house is asleep, put away Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and use that time to dive into the steps below.

3. Get your ideas on paper.

Read over the Common App essay prompts and then put the questions away. It’s time to free write. Jot down your ideas (in the free time set out in steps 1 and 2). Little. Big. Meaningful. Contrite. The goal here is to get your ideas down on paper. Don’t censor. Don’t edit. Don’t delete. Just write.

4. Capture those embarrassing moments.

Time to bring in those who love you most. Family. Friends. Teachers. Grandparents. Let’s ask them a few questions to kick-off the process and add to the list of ideas you’re putting together. What were you like when you were little? What did you love/hate to do/eat/read? Funny stories? Poignant moments. Get them all. These stories may be embarrassing, but they can also be the link between the present and past. Consider these truths the story springboard.

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5. Start writing.

Take your idea lists and embarrassing moments and prompts and see what fits. Write a draft. Give it a try. Know it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just start. This is the hardest part. I promise.

6. Be genuine.

Nothing engages a reader like honesty. While writing, remember it’s not always about the essence of what you did, but how that experience felt and impacted you. Use your genuine emotions to convey why this story is important to you.

7. Answer the question.

Sounds basic, but remember when telling your story to be sure you’re answering the question being asked. It’s easy to go astray but important to stay focused and on track.

8. Focus on you.

Remember to keep the story you’re telling about you. You may have a wonderful mother, an extraordinary grandmother and a stand-out teacher, but none of them are applying to college. The admissions officer needs to know about you in order to decide if you and the school to which you are applying are a good fit. Give them the opportunity to know who you are.

9. Keep it honest and positive.

No need to embellish. Just be yourself. Tell the story that shares who you are, not who you think the college wants you to be. In the end, the real you and the school need to be a good fit. So, remember to stay true to yourself and the process!

Once your first draft is written, share it with a friend, family member, teacher, independent college adviser. Read it out loud. Ask yourself, does it sound like you? Convey what’s important to you? Share your story? If the answer to those questions is yes, you’re ready to revise. But for now, a victory dance to celebrate the completion of draft one. Great job!

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Written by Elly Swartz

Elly Swartz is the founder of The Essay Adviser, a writer, a lawyer, and a former teacher of Legal Research and Writing at Boston University School of Law. Elly helps navigate the application process, and is dedicated to providing personalized application and essay advisory services for college, graduate school and independent secondary school through individual advising and group workshops.

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