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Get started now: Tips for crafting college essays

By Deena Maerowitz

The long, sunny days of summer are perfect for hitting the beach, hanging out with friends—and getting a jumpstart on your college application essays.

The benefits of launching this part of the process early are numerous. Being away from school year deadlines lets candidates bring fresh energy and creativity to putting their best foot forward through these personal narratives. In addition, the competitive advantage of applying early is even greater in this era of high application numbers. Deadlines for merit aid may also require applications to be submitted earlier than even the early action or early decision deadlines. In this context, being ready with essays when the school year begins can reduce stress and increase opportunities. Students can start their primary essays now because prompts for the Common Application are already published. Writing these early in the summer makes time more available to write supplemental essays for individual schools when those prompts become available in August.

As you write, use these strategies to craft personal essays that enhance your application:

Show a different side of yourself. It’s a common misconception that personal essays should recap a candidate’s interests and achievements. These are already well documented, however, by your transcript and lists of activities and honors. Instead, the essay is an opportunity to reveal your sense of humor, illustrate the special relationship you have with a sibling, or elaborate on how your passion for baking began.

Narrow and personalize your topic. Explore a specific event, influence, or idea  and consider what personal perspective only you can bring to this topic. If your essay about a family anecdote or your love of gardening was in a stack of thousands of other essays (which it will be), would it stand out as being distinctly your story?

Highlight growth. The heart of a personal essay is reflection. Whatever your topic, illustrate how engaging with it reflects your values and has broadened your view of yourself and the world.

Lean into voice. The tone of personal essays is much more flexible than the academic voice used for most high school assignments. Enjoy this opportunity to express yourself authentically. Remember, however, that even with an informal tone, personal essays should be polished and proofread carefully.

Revising is an important part of essay writing, and successful college application essays undergo multiple drafts. So, the sooner candidates get something on the page, the better. A pro writer’s tip is to let a piece of writing rest between drafts. By starting well in advance of deadlines, candidates can bring a fresh perspective to each draft as they add layers of depth and finesse. This is just one more benefit of working on essays over the summer. When school starts and college admission deadlines loom large, you’ll be glad you did.

Deena Maerowitz advises students throughout the entire college admissions process. She works with students ranging from freshmen to seniors and is an expert in both undergraduate and graduate education. She is widely published and sought-after as a speaker on college planning. She can be reached at deena@thebertramgroup.com