College Application Essays: Four Ways Not to Psych Yourself Out


College Application Essays: Four Ways Not to Psych Yourself Out

Halloween doesn’t seem so scary when compared to college application deadlines that have become a somewhat frightening reality for high school seniors. The prospect of executing the college application process is extremely daunting, often because it can feel like there’s so much riding on which college you attend. Beginning your college applications means that you’re face-to-face with the reality that very soon, you’ll be making the major transition from childhood to adulthood (well, adulthood to some degree). However, the scary part isn’t usually filling out countless boxes asking for your personal information, test scores, and classes. The intimidating nature of applying to college typically comes from the self-revealing and time-consuming component of each application: your college application essays.

Writing in general can be nerve-wracking. We’ve all felt the stress of writer’s block at inopportune times, whether it was during the essay portion of a tough exam or when writing a simple, heartfelt happy birthday letter to a friend. It makes sense that the prospect of writing college application essays can cause even the biggest writing buffs to shake in their boots. College application essays often serve as the most genuine portrayals of an applicant’s real self, beyond GPAs and test scores!

As someone who was undoubtedly (and in retrospect, excessively) freaked out by college application essays my senior year, I am here to tell you this with absolute confidence: You can and will write your college application essays, and my guess is that you’ll enjoy writing them, too.

Here are some tips I have for anyone feeling intimidated, unmotivated, or simply unsure of how to approach their college application essays.

Take a deep breath.

You’re here. You’ve gone through years of learning and maturing to become the student and person you are today. You get to tell admissions officers how awesome you are and everything about your life leading up to this point. Taking some time to assess what’s in front of you, as well as what’s behind you, can help you form a clear idea of the stories you want to tell. Ask yourself questions before writing your personal statement on the Common App what you value. Doing these things calmly, while giving yourself time and space to be introspective and creative, will help you form a realistic idea of what your game plan should be.

While you’re forming your plan of action, set some realistic goals as well. In my experience, I’ve found that setting macro goals—writing, say, eight total essays during the whole application process—is just as important as setting tangible, realistic micro goals alongside them, such as writing three paragraphs per day on the essay of your choice.

Do your research and pace yourself.

We all know that high school is stressful enough, and adding on college application essays doesn’t make it any easier. So, start doing research—on what schools you’re applying to during the college search, what they’re looking for in applicants, what you are looking for, and what stories you want to tell. Every school has a different protocol for college application essays. Some schools don’t even require an essay, some want you to write ten small essays, and others expect a few longer, more detailed essays. Information on what your schools of interest are looking for when they read applicants’ essays is usually found in schools’ mission statements and admissions materials. Pro-Tip: I’d avoid unmoderated, angst-filled college threads, even though they can be alluring.

Pacing yourself is an incredibly important (but often overlooked!) strategy that can help you achieve your writing goals in a timely, less stressful way. Starting early, whether through research or writing early drafts, and maintaining a consistent pace while writing your essays will give you time for revisions and even rewriting without racing to beat the clock.

Be confident and go for it.

Sure, talking and writing about yourself can seem a bit awkward sometimes, but use this process as an opportunity to show admissions readers how unique you are! If you’ve done your research and set realistic goals that will motivate you throughout your essay-writing process, you’re already in a good place. Use your college application essays to learn more about yourself and to write creatively in ways that tell your unique story. Regardless of what school you’re applying to, always remember to be honest and authentic in the stories you tell—it makes writing about personal experiences much easier. Hopefully, you will end up with some college application essays that you can’t wait to send off for admissions officers to read!

Take time to edit and use the people around you to your advantage.

After you’ve written some solid drafts, take some time to step away and reflect on what you’ve just created. At this stage of the essay writing process, the people around you—friends, former or current teachers, parents, current students you know at the college you hope to attend—can become your best tools. If you have time between the completion of your essays and the submission deadlines for your applications, ask someone you trust to look over an essay or two that you’ve written. A fresh set of eyes can benefit your essays by noticing things that you maybe would never have realized.

Finally, after you’ve finished your college application essays and you’re proud of what you’ve written, celebrate what you just did. Applying to college is no small feat.

In general, even though the process of writing multiple college application essays is stressful, laying out a plan on your own terms can make your life a lot easier. You know your writing style and pace better than anyone else—think about how, where, and when you’re most motivated to write, and construct your plan around those factors.

Trust your mind, be honest, and approach this beast of a process without being too stressed out. Writing always comes most seamlessly when you’re writing about something you’re both proud of and that you absolutely know to be true. Believe in yourself, and go for it!

Written by Caroline Schulz

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