Attention Rising Seniors: Time to Start Your College Essay!

prepmatters-vd-r04 prepmatters-vd-r04

College Essays Are a Priority

As we enjoy this beautiful summer, I’m sure some of you rising seniors tingle with anticipation when you think, “Next year I’ll be a senior!” Right now, you’re probably directing your attention to fun in the sun, and perhaps, avoiding summer learning loss by getting involved in college programs, internships, or even service projects. But at least it won’t be fall until you write a college essay, right?

Not so fast.

As rising seniors, you will avoid a lot of stress next school year if you plan ahead and begin writing a college essay this summer. Sure, give yourself a break for a couple of weeks at the beginning of summer. Go on vacation. Hang out with friends. Maybe even earn some extra cash with a summer job or accrue valuable experience with an internship. But be sure to include among your other activities time to map out how and when you will complete your college essays. Ideally, that means researching prompts, selecting topics, and working on early drafts.

Even a relatively short list of schools can produce a surprising list of writing assignments. Let’s look at a specific example. Sofie’s dream school is University of Chicago, so she plans on applying early action, which means her deadline is November 1. Other schools on her list are University of Virginia, Georgetown University, Tulane University, Emory University, and University of Vermont. Some of these schools use the Common Application, which requires an college essay of no more than 650 words. In addition, many Common App schools also require one or more supplemental essays, which have a wide range of length requirements. Other schools may have their own applications and require other essays.

In Sofie’s case, the above list of schools means that she will have to write 13 unique college essays. Here’s the breakdown for Sofie:

  • Common Application schools
    • University of Chicago
      • Common App essay (650-word maximum)
      • Response to “Question 1” (one or two paragraphs)
      • Response to “Question 2” (one or two paragraphs)
      • Extended essay (250-500 words recommended)
    • University of Virginia
      • Common App essay (650-word maximum)
      • School-specific essay (about 250 words)
      • Answer to question (about 250 words)
    • Emory University
      • Common App essay (650-word maximum)
      • Essay 1 (250-word maximum)
      • Essay 2 (exactly five sentences)
    • University of Vermont
      • Common App essay (650-word maximum)
      • No supplements
  • Non-Common App schools
    • Georgetown University
      • Essay 1 (approximately one page)
      • Essay 2 (approximately one page)
      • Short essay (approximately half a page)
    • Tulane University
      • Personal statement (at least 250 words)
      • “Why Tulane?” (approximately 200 words)

Careful planning and getting started this summer will give Sofie the time she needs to craft her college essays and also save her a lot of stress in the fall! Keep in mind that the Common App essay is a single college essay you submit to all Common App schools, and it can often be “recycled” or modified to fulfill the college essay requirement of non-Common App schools. Even so, the supplemental essays are trickier as colleges tend to customize these prompts.

Sometimes, admissions committees have a bit of fun with them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at a few previous prompts for University of Chicago and University of Virginia:

  • Othello and Iago. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. The Autobots and the Decepticons. History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
  • Discuss something you secretly like but pretend not to, or vice versa.
  • So where is Waldo, really?

Then there are schools, such as University of Vermont, that require no supplemental essays.

Your college essay should showcase your very best writing, so if your plan looks anything like Sofie’s, it’s time to start. Supplemental essay prompts for some schools will not be available until August, but the Common App essay prompts are available now.

Do yourself a favor and free yourself from unwanted stress by finishing what college essays you can before senior year begins. That way, you will have only the remaining supplemental questions and actual college applications to complete, allowing you more energy for your regular coursework.

Ned Johnson

President & Tutor-Geek

Ned Johnson is the president and founder of PrepMatters. A professional tutor-geek since 1993, Mr. Johnson has devoted in excess of 35,000 hours in one-on-one test prep for nearly the entire alphabet of tests. His experience includes work with all ages and abilities in preparation for SSAT and ISEE to ACT and SAT to GMAT, GRE and LSAT.

Considered by many to be the most sought-after instr...

See Full Profile