August 1 will bring a flurry of college-admissions activity, with most schools making their applications available, fall extra curriculars starting up, the start of senior year. Keeping all of the balls in the air—while keeping grades up—requires room in your schedule that can be hard to find.
One way to maximize your schedule and develop the best essay possible is for rising seniors to complete their essay over the summer, aiming to be finished by August 1st with plenty of time to start applications. With over 500 schools using the Common App, odds are at least one, if not more, of the schools you’ll apply to will use these 2014-15 application essay prompts. For schools not using the Common App, you can typically expect a similar topic that is biographical in nature, so these prompts can usually be adapted.
Now that you know when to do it, what are the key tips in crafting an outstanding essay?
1. Find Your Voice.
While much of the college application is the numbers that define you (GPA, test scores, class rank) or other’s opinions (in the form of recommendation letters), this is your opportunity to market yourself as only you can. Finding your voice and refining it takes time, so don’t rush the process.
2. Keep to the Limits.
Many essays have firm word minimums and maximums. Ignore these on your first drafts; then, as you revise your essay, you can eliminate extraneous words and choose flavorful-yet-concise words to get your message across. In 2013, Common App adopted a firm 650-word limit, and cuts applicants off if they attempt to exceed this.
3. Be Honest.
If you’re thinking about crafting an essay that is not truly representative of you and your experience—or worse yet, someone else’s words and experiences—your college career may end before it even gets started. Admissions officers have read countless applications, and most are very adept at identifying a fraud. It’s simply not worth the risk. If you’ve started with plenty of time to work on your essay, you shouldn’t be tempted to take the “easy” way out.
4. Stand Out.
Colleges are flooded with applications, so finding a unique topic is important. Talk through your life experiences, show someone your resume to dig deeper for a story that shows your unique you. Maybe even push the envelope a bit (but not too far) to get noticed. Remember: bland is boring, and this is true of topic choice and word choice.
5. Be Polished.
Once you hit submit on your application, there is no do-over. Put your best foot forward by crafting a polished essay that showcases not only who you are in your own, unique voice, but the quality of the work you’ll bring to the college when they accept you.