When you begin the process of writing your college admissions essays, you may be at the corner of “overwhelmed” and “confused.” What prompt(s) should I choose? Where should I start? How many essays am I going to have to write? These are all questions that may run through your head, especially as you first glance at the oftentimes daunting essay requirements. Have no fear! I feel your pain – but I am here to remind you to 1. Take a yoga breath (it is going to be OK), and that 2. You may actually need to do less writing than you think. Here are my tips and tricks on writing application essays that you can save, reuse and revitalize for the future.
Many college and scholarship essays require you to talk about yourself. Some students have a hard time with this because they fear sounding “full of themselves” in their writing – but as the applicant, you must remember that the admissions or scholarship committee wants to know about your accomplishments, your interests and your goals. My advice is to start with a blank word processing document and begin outlining your passions, achievements, involvement positions, etc. and how they tie into your plans for the future. Let any and all ideas flow from your head. Don’t be afraid to add your personality and voice into your writing; you can always change your wording to create a more formal tone, if needed. In this stage, do not worry about specific prompts or topics; just focus on creating a solid personal story about yourself and your goals. Taking the time to think about your interests, ambitions and plans – and putting these elements into writing – is powerful, and may give you added inspiration and motivation to persevere through the college application process.
Add in the details.
The narrative or “bio” of sorts that you created, your personal statement, will become a versatile piece of writing; you will be able to shorten or lengthen it as needed and update it as you continue to grow. When you are ready to begin writing a specific essay, start with your personal statement and try to relate your goals for the future into the essay prompt or theme. For example, how can your past experiences help you at (insert college or university name here)? How will your experiences at (insert college or university here)/opportunities provided by (insert scholarship here) help you to achieve your goals outlined in your personal statement? These jumping-off points may help you develop ideas and details that relate to the prompt – while still relaying your own passions and plans.
Mix old and new elements.
You may look at an essay prompt and realize you have already written something awesome that could potentially be used again. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as you are reusing your own work – but before you get too excited with the “copy and paste” tools, reread your essay. Are there any phrases or sentences that are not related to the prompt? Is there outdated information? Make sure to remove unnecessary elements that may reveal a lack of revision. In some cases, you may choose to use a specific section or paragraph from an old essay and combine it with a new piece of writing. Other times, you may simply read through older pieces and projects to gain inspiration and insight into a new prompt.
Writing is rewriting.
One of the best pieces of writing advice I have ever gotten was, “Writing is rewriting.” Even with a genuine, firm personal statement and inspiration from past essays, the best writing is a product of rethinking, revising and lots of rereading. Writing college admissions essays – especially feeling overwhelmed with multiple prompts – is a whirlwind. If you feel frustrated and tempted to give up, give yourself a break and look at your essay with fresh eyes. Let someone you trust read your writing and make comments.
When you take a step back, you may find mistakes you never saw before, and you may have the biggest epiphanies about ideas or stories to include. Don’t settle – keep rereading, and keep rewriting until your essay reflects who you are not only as an applicant, but as an individual.