The onset of senior year can feel overwhelming when you realize there’s only a year left before you begin a whole new chapter of your life: college. The past three years have given subtle reminders to start thinking about your future. Chances are, besides a handful of college visits, SAT/ACT prep and AP courses, you haven’t given much thought to college. And, that’s totally okay. I know that starting the dreaded college essay and narrowing your college list can seem sudden and rushed, so it’s important to not panic and keep things organized.
During the summer before senior year, my guidance counselor recommended that I create my Common Application account and read the essay prompts. The 2017-2018 prompts are available here. It is a good idea to complete the general information of the application during the summer. Rutgers has a separate application and essay on its website.
The essay is a crucial part of your application. It is important to spend time and give it the best of your ability. It should not be rushed. There are seven prompts this year. Five of the seven prompts invite students to express themselves through their experiences and beliefs. The two new prompts broaden the scope and allow students to create their own prompt. The essay questions are very broad and open-ended. The wide scope of the prompts can be a struggle for many students because it is often difficult to pinpoint one single story to share.
A few reminders to keep in mind when writing the essay:
- It does not have to be formal. There is no set rubric or format that the essay has to follow. Unlike a language arts essay, you are free to be creative and authentic to yourself. Do not be afraid to take a risk and express yourself freely!
- Brainstorm ideas. This is the hardest part. Ideas may come quick or take time. If you have a profound experience or event that you want to share, then you’re all set. For those that do not, don’t worry! My counselor told me to not start digging for emotional and sad experiences simply to tell a moving story. That is not necessary. Happy or sad, as long as the essay reveals your identity and perspective, your goal is accomplished. I made a word document in which I would list out ideas in bullet form (i.e. children, volunteering, dance, power of keeping a diary….). If I felt passionate about a topic, I’d start writing a paragraph or so. Then, I’d think of something else and expand on another paragraph. Unknowingly, these incoherent paragraphs led me to what I really wanted to write about. This took me days or even weeks, but it was worth the time.
- Take your time writing. Be in a calm and comfortable environment when writing your essay. I wrote the majority of my essay while I was on vacation in India! Whether in the airport, in your backyard, or your bedroom, all it takes is a topic you are passionate and excited to share. Do not try to finish the essay in a day. Keep coming back to it every couple of days, or as you think of new ideas to include. Sometimes, I’d think of something to add in my sleep and jot it down on my phone.
- Worry about organization later. Although you should have a basic format for your progression of ideas, you should not limit yourself. Write down everything you feel connects to your essay, and organize it later. That is much easier to do, rather than pausing your ideas for the sake of organization.
- It should be honest and even a little uncomfortable. The essay should tell something about you that lies outside your academic achievements and your application. It should be authentic, and even a little uncomfortable. This does not mean you need to share your deepest and darkest secrets, but it should be something a little outside your comfort zone! Remember that only the college admissions officer will read it. To stand out from other applications, it is a good idea to build a connection with your admissions officer in 650 words or less.
- Be concise and straight to the point. Do not try to fit everything in. Although 650 words may seem a lot, it truly isn’t. If you’re like me and you tend to write a lot, it can be a struggle. However, it is better to write more and remove the excess fluff, rather than fall short. You should focus on keeping your message clear and brief. When you are organizing your essay, make sure every paragraph relates to the overall message.
- Do not submit the essay immediately. Make sure you get different perspectives on the essay and proofread multiple times. You can ask your guidance counselor, teachers, parents, relatives, and even friends! If your school offers a college essay workshop or class, consider taking it. One or two opinions are enough if you do not feel comfortable sharing it with too many people. Take other perspectives into consideration, but remember that it is ultimately your essay, so make sure it stays unique and authentic to you.
- Read your essay out loud. Once you finish your essay, read it aloud. You can read it to yourself or to an audience. The essay should leave you with an impact. After all, it is a part of you laid out on paper! Sometimes, phrases may not sound as good out loud as they do in your head, so this is a great opportunity to make final edits. Wait 24-48 hours before submitting the final draft.
Completing the college essay brings a huge sigh of relief. It is a difficult and rewarding part of the college application process. Thus, make sure to enjoy every moment of it!