An Overview of the Writing Process for College Essays
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Pascale Bradley in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
When to Start Writing
It is never too early to start writing your college admission essays. You should start as early as possible because crafting quality essays requires ample time and patience. Some students will start thinking about their personal statements at the end of their junior year of high school. Some will spend the summer before their senior year writing and rewriting their essays so that they can finish them before school starts. And some will start a few days or hours before the college application deadline.
You will want to make sure that you carve out enough time on a regular basis to write and rewrite your Common App essay so that you can develop your ideas without the pressure of a looming deadline. To plan properly, you should take into consideration your academic, extracurricular, and family commitments to determine how much time you can devote each week to writing your essays. You will also need to plan in advance how many supplemental essays you need to write and when complete drafts of all your essays should be ready for submission.
How to Start Writing
You should begin the writing process by brainstorming possible responses to the essay prompts. When the brainstorming process yields multiple viable topics, you should put them to the test and write a few different essay outlines or rough drafts. You never know if a story is worth telling until you have told it and you may find that one story ends up being a better essay than another or that two stories could be stronger if you merge them into one essay.
For each topic or prompt that you choose, it is helpful to write an outline. Outlines will help you organize your thoughts and see the overall structure of your argument. After you have written an outline, start writing the body of the essay, followed by the introduction, and ending with the conclusion. If you start by writing the introduction or the conclusion, the process will go more slowly because it is difficult to write an introduction or a conclusion for an essay that you haven’t written yet.
Writing the Essay
After you spend time brainstorming and outlining, you need to just start writing. There is no secret to writing other than for you to silence your inner critic long enough to commit words to paper. You will build momentum the more you write and you should refrain from editing yourself too much because this could interrupt the flow of ideas.
As you write, you want to constantly think about what you want the reader, an admissions officer, to know about you. Any story that you are telling should be told because it reveals something that you want the admissions officer to know. Any analysis or self-reflection that you do should be written in such a way that you demonstrate who you are and how you think about who you are in a way that would appeal to admissions officers.
Drafts, Feedback, and Revisions
You will want to write many drafts of your Common App essay and any supplemental essays that you write. Make sure to read your drafts aloud to yourself because it is easier to catch awkward syntax or confusing passages when you verbalize what you have written. Assuming that you have left ample time before the deadline, you should take plenty of breaks in between the drafts you are writing. This will allow you to look at your essays in a critical light and make adjustments to improve them.
Once you have produced a draft that you are proud of, or at least are ready to share with others, you can ask a trusted teacher, high school counselor, CollegeVine advisor, parent, or friend to read the draft and provide feedback. Be careful about striking a balance between asking too many people and not asking enough people for feedback. As you incorporate feedback into new drafts of your essay, you should always remember that you have the ultimate say in how you write about yourself and your experiences.
Essay writing is difficult, but it is not impossible. You will ultimately reach a point where you have written a statement about yourself that sounds like you and says what you want it to say about who you are. Furthermore, if you devote enough time, care, and thought into your writing, you will not only produce essays that you will feel proud to submit, but you will also have an enriching experience of reflecting on your past, present, and future during a critical time in your life.
For more information about how to write strong college admission essays, review our comprehensive article on How to Write the Common Application Essays and read 19 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to get inspired.