I Have to Start My Personal Essay... But When?

The college essay is a daunting aspect of the college application process. How can you tell a college everything about yourself in a single essay? High school teachers shower you with assigned essays, poems. When it comes to the college essay, you need to channel all the knowledge and experience you've garnered to craft your most influential, heartfelt piece of writing. Many feel like the college essay is supposed to be the climax of their high school writing portfolio. However, you must remember that the countless class periods working on your English skills have strengthened and prepared you for this undertaking!

Test scores, GPAs, class rank. With all of these numbers, it can be challenging to give a college a real sense of who you are as a person and how you will contribute to their campus. This is where the college essay comes in. In 750 words, you are tasked with letting a college know who you are. The first question is what you should write your essay on. How do you pick a topic that is not too sappy or boring? While you can bounce ideas off your parents, teachers, and peers, this should be a mostly internal process. You know yourself and your strengths as a writer better than anyone. You know what topics you can write page-after-page about, without coming off as repetitive or try-hard.

My best advice is that it is never too early to start brainstorming ideas for your college essay. You might find it helpful to keep a running list of ideas on your phone as you think of them as well as a document on your computer. There will and should be a few ideas that come straight away. These would be the ideas most central to your being. A hobby you've had for ten years? An identity that has sculpted your perspective of the world? A life-changing service trip? Think of an essay topic as a thread; you want it to span through as many meaningful experiences of your life as possible. This will give you more content to choose from for the essay and allow you to be more selective when writing your later drafts. More traditional sit-down-and-focus brainstorm sessions are also worthwhile but might be difficult to orchestrate in the early-phases of your writing process. When you pick out your brightest essay idea, it should feel right. To the admissions counselor, it should feel like you are sitting right across their desk, reading the essay to them.

When you begin writing your essay, accept that fact that it will not be one-and-done. It will take more than one draft to get an essay you are satisfied with. You need to be okay with writing a draft and scrapping it altogether the next time you sit down to write. I, myself, had 27 drafts of my college essay. Each one was pretty distinct from the last, until the grammatical edits on the previous few. Twenty-seven may sound extreme, but I knew myself as a writer and was completely okay with starting from scratch when it was necessary to get my ideas down in the most coherent way possible.

Another tip is to remember to use the resources at your disposal. That said, your essay should stay 'your' essay. With too many proofreaders, your unique voice can get overpowered by someone else. Furthermore, while the essay is a central piece of your application, they will see other writing. It is crucial that the writing on your supplements and within your essays is consistent.

It is best to have an early draft of your essay going into your senior year. As we have said in previous blog posts, having an essay draft before you start senior year will make you less stressed. You want to have the first few months of senior year to enjoy long-awaited traditions with your friends and to focus on your schoolwork, not to spend long, stressful nights reworking your personal statement!