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What Every Applicant Should Know About the Common Application Essay

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To this year’s juniors, who are about to enter the hectic hullabaloo of college applications, here is a current senior’s advice on how to succeed next year. These are the tips I wish I had listened to before applying to college, the ones I wish I had known when I was a rising senior.

In the summer between junior and senior year, a large portion of your application is set: you've made a (hopefully good) impression on your teachers and accumulated three years' worth of grades. Although college applications loom on the horizon, they feel more like monsters lurking under your bed than a defined concept. You hear this advice from countless upperclassmen, friends, parents, to “start early.” But in the midst of summer revelries, who would rather think about college applications than go to the beach and work on a tan?

Start Early

The answer is the students who think ahead. This lucky group will be the ones who, when October rolls in, aren’t stressed over writing three personal essays, plus finishing standardized testing, plus keeping their grades up — not to mention managing extracurriculars on the side.

Before the school year starts again, take some time to brainstorm and write your common application essays.

First Thought, Best Thought

But even those who do start early can easily be caught in another trap. The fact is that the size of the task is large: the common application essay is meant to give background on who you are, discuss something meaningful, and give your application personalized edge — all in a matter of 600 words, or less.

There is no such thing as a “perfect”essay. Many essays of varying sorts are quite successful. The best advice is to not be afraid of your ideas: celebrate the spontaneity of a moment’s inspiration; reflect on past summer and school experiences.

Keep Multiple Drafts

Revise, think, and revise again. Even though your first drafts may be a far cry from the final product, reviewing these ideas will give you an idea of the direction you want to head in.

Don't give up. Come back to your essay every now and then. This way, you will have more time to think on and add creative touches to your writing, rather than rush it last minute.

Write About Who You Are

The last and most common pitfall comes before the deadline. Students at times listening to what others have to say about their personal essay too much. They let college counselors, advisors, parents, and teacher’s thoughts and comments on their essay dictate their tone and style. What comes out is a patchwork where no one clear voice shines through. Instead, take care to use edits in moderation. It’s your essay: yours is the voice that should shine through.

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