Tips on Writing College Application Essays

By the time you reach the end of junior year, hopefully, all the things that you can’t control are done with. You’ve grinded standardized testing (SAT/ACT/AP/Subject tests), worked hard on getting grades throughout high school, and now you’ve arrived at what some may call the most challenging part of the application process: the infamous essays.

Over the course of the two years I actively was working on this college admissions process, this was the single part I was most excited about. As someone who writes constantly, I knew that this was the part of the application I could shine on. That being said, I know that it was the complete opposite for many others. And that’s totally fine! But, for those who will embark on this process, or anyone who is curious about how a student goes through this six month journey, this is my story.

Right at the start of June, at the end of junior year, I started writing my UC essays, 4 350 word essays for public universities in California. They release their prompts far earlier than private high schools and they’re the most straightforward to write. To start, I began just writing down a list of anecdotes and things that just meant a lot to me. I then began drafting and going through many different versions for the UC personal insight questions for about a one and a half month process till mid July, at which point I felt comfortable to set them aside.

Once I got solid, near final drafts for my UC essays, I dived into the most important essay of them all: the Common App Personal Statement. This is the 650 word essay that is designed to share something important to you. Before writing, I knew what I wanted to write about, which allowed me to just focus on the way I needed to share my story. The hard part was forming all these ideas together into something semi-coherent. I went through around 7 completely different drafts until I really found the nuanced angle I wanted to write about. And once I found that draft, it took me a few more months, somewhere around mid August through end of October, to make the revisions that I was satisfied with.

The wonderful part about getting through these main ones first was that a lot of the drafts that I didn’t think would fit for Common App, or the ideas I wrote about for my UCs could be used in my supplements for private schools. Those ones were by far least stressful for me to write because I could focus on explaining why I loved a particular school and explaining why I wanted to attend. The supplements would take around two weeks to truly solidify from research and ideas, to a completed draft.

Another section of essays that isn’t required but something I had to write is known as the additional comment section. This was a place where I had to share more personal details surrounding my academic experience to give more context to everything that was being shown. I urge anyone who feels that they need to inform admissions officers of something that affected your academic performance, use this section to explain that.

The single most important thing to do when writing your essays is to create a schedule for writing. I cannot emphasize this enough. By planning out this process for months, I was able to significantly reduce the stress I had throughout the fall with managing applications along with school work and extracurricular. I saw how so many of my peers were genuinely panicking about being able to get all their work done in time, and I couldn’t really do anything to help out because I didn’t know truly understand their situation. I knew that what worked for me was a strong schedule that guided me to not procrastinate on writing my essays.

The second key thing to do is to get feedback on your essays. I am not saying get advice from anyone. In fact, I didn’t really have any of my friends or people I was applying with read my essays. I had adults that had experience in the apps process give feedback. This way, I knew that the ideas were not biased and were really more focused on how they would be perceived by an admissions officer, not just by people I cared about. Another set of eyes will always catch things that you may have completely missed when writing on your own, so this is a strong recommendation.

If there was one thing that challenged me the most in writing essays, it was finding where to stop, when to not overdo any essay I would write. I sometimes try to be a perfectionist far too much, and a few times, I just wanted to revise or repeatedly tell myself it wasn’t good enough. But it was having other people reading through my essays that I could be reassured that I was on the right track, that what I was writing was truly reflective of who I was in real life.

Above all else, when writing your essays, just be yourself. This may be the most cliche piece of advice that anyone may give you about writing college apps, but this one is a huge one for me. There were moments throughout writing that I realized I was attempting to repackage and tell a story that wasn’t authentic to I was. And looking back, had I not made the conscious effort to just be as genuine as I could, I don’t think I could have ever let myself live with that. So I just let myself be vulnerable. I would rather always have someone tell me no for who I was than ever say yes for someone I never was. And this was the single greatest decision I made when writing these essays. I am so grateful I was able to make this conscious effort to push against this grain.

The college applications essay writing process can be tedious and cumbersome, but I can assure you that if you really just do the best you can, you will be proud of the work you’ve done (as was I). Next week, I’ll be visiting where I will be going for the next four years, so I’ll be chronicling that here on the blog next week to wrap up all this college-related content so I can get back to writing on politics, music, and coffee! Till next week…

Being Noah Tesfaye #76: Tips on Writing College Application Essays

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!



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