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How to Take the Fear Out of Writing Your College Essay

One of the most feared and intimidating parts of the application process is the college essay. I can understand why students have trepidation leading up to writing their personal statement. For selective and highly selective colleges, the essay matters. It often defines how the student is perceived by the admissions officer reading their application, and can impact the admissions decision. No pressure, right?

Before beginning the writing process, students wonder how on earth they are going to get across their very best self in 650 words or less. If you're worried and don't know how to get started, here are five tips to calm your nerves:

  1. You have ALL SUMMER to write your college essay. While there is a small percentage of students ready to write their college essay during junior year of high school, most students need more time. The best essays that I read are almost uniformly written by students during the summer between junior and senior year. Being away from the demands of the school year creates a safe space to take stock and consider the person you are. Most students gain a lot of perspective and maturity once the school year is complete, and this is reflected in a more self-aware essay.
  2. Pick your topic first and then look at the essay prompts in the Common Application (or another application). Almost anything a student writes about themselves for the main college essay will fit one of the prompts.
  3. Consider things that not everyone knows about you, or if they do, you don't usually discuss them. What moment, experience, quotation, family saying, daily routine, characteristic, challenge, or lifestyle represents you (and only you) so purely and authentically? The answer will come to you when you consider the person you are because of the life you have lived.
  4. You don't have to be perfect or come from a perfect family to write an extraordinary essay. In fact, imperfections or complex situations lead to powerful essays about resiliency, understanding, and acceptance.
  5. The work involved in writing the college essay can truly pay off. It can be the difference between getting admitted and getting denied. You get out of it what you put into it.

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Writing the main college essay can be very empowering, especially when the student sees themselves through a different and positive light. The hardest part is getting started, so keep these five tips in mind to begin!