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When Should You Start Writing Your College Essays?

What’s Covered:

 

For many students, summertime means relaxing, spending time with friends, traveling, or hanging out at the beach. But for rising high school seniors, it often feels like the prelude to perhaps the most anxiety-provoking time in life thus far — college application season.

 

Many students dread the start of the school year because it means they’ll have to complete their applications while continuing their schoolwork, keeping their grades up, and participating in extracurriculars. And there’s no denying it will be stressful.

 

But there is a way to alleviate some of that stress: start working on your essays — and get a head start on your college applications.

 

Why Are College Essays Important?

 

Perhaps you think essays aren’t all that important. But for the most part, you’d be wrong to assume that. At the most competitive colleges and universities, there are usually at least four academically-qualified candidates for every open spot. So, these schools need to go well beyond grades and test scores to assess applicants. In fact, generally speaking, essays account for about 25% of your overall application at the top 250 schools.

 

Now that many colleges have become test-optional — and still others have become test-blind — in the admissions process, the other components of your application carry even more weight. So, don’t overlook the importance of your essays.

 

Essays aren’t equally important across the board. Several factors, such as the size of the school and the strength of your academic and extracurricular profiles, play a role in its relative significance. And, truth be told, a stellar essay isn’t going to make up for a very weak profile. But it could be enough to push a borderline candidate into the acceptance (or rejection) pile.

 

Types of College Essays

 

Most colleges and universities accept the Common Application and/or the Coalition Application. When completing these applications, you will be asked to address one of the essay prompts provided (both include a topic of your choice), which you can send to any college that accepts these apps. This significantly reduces the amount of time you will need to spend on your essays.

 

Many schools also ask you to write one or more supplemental essays. These are generally shorter than Common or Coalition App essays. While the prompts themselves are specific to the schools, you will likely see some common themes emerge, such as the “why us” essay” or short responses asking you to describe your academic and career goals. While you shouldn’t reuse essays in their entirety, you can often apply similar ideas and even full passages to multiple supplements.

 

Bear in mind that some colleges accept neither the Common App nor the Coalition App and instead have a school-specific application, which will usually require you to write one or more unique essays. In some cases, you may be able to reuse parts of other essays, but make sure you’re actually addressing the prompt and not trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole.

 

When Are College Essays Due?

 

Essays, including supplements, are due at the same time as the rest of your application. Application due dates vary, but most schools have early decision/early action deadlines around October and regular decision deadlines in January or February. Some colleges offer early decision II plans, which usually have deadlines at the same time as their RD deadlines. You can find out exact deadlines for specific institutions via your Common App or Coalition App accounts or via the school’s admissions website.

 

Other colleges, usually less selective ones, have rolling admission deadlines, meaning they will continue to evaluate applications until they have filled their freshman class. It’s in your best interest to complete your essays and apply earlier rather than later because you never know how many qualified applications they will receive or when they will close off applications.

 

When Should You Start Writing Your College Essays?

 

Ideally, you should start working on your essays as soon as possible, preferably in the summer before application season. This will give you ample time to brainstorm, write, edit, get feedback, and revise.

 

The Common App opens on August 1st, but the prompts are usually released in February. School supplements, meanwhile, are typically released when the Common App opens.

 

Where to Get Feedback on Your College Essays

 

Feedback is an important part of the college essay and application process. By starting early, you’ll give yourself ample time to get another set — or several sets — of eyes on your work.

 

And you don’t need to look far. The CollegeVine community is an excellent resource for getting feedback on your essays. We offer both peer and expert review services, so you can feel rest assured you’re submitting your best work.


Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.