I have good news and bad news for you if you will graduate from high school in 2016: The good news is that you’re on the verge of becoming an official high school senior (if you aren’t already) – congratulations!
The bad news is: You’re on the verge of becoming an official high school senior.
As of today, only 61 days stand between you and August 1, which is the date that the Common Application goes live and you are able to begin submitting college applications to Common Application-member schools. And because the Common App goes live on that date, a lot of schools that maintain their own in-house application portals likewise make sure that their applications go live on August 1 so that you can just as easily submit your applications to them at the same time.
(Did you, by chance, just scream the words “61 days?!”)
That’s right, students – that time that once seemed so far away is now close enough to touch, which means you have a lot of work to do and a very short period of time in which to complete it. The biggest part of that workload? You’ll need to complete your college application essay, that oh-so-personal piece that will provide the third dimension to your application file, the part that makes you human and separates you from the numbers that comprise your grades and test scores, your high school rank and the number of community service hours you put in last year.
Your application essay is your one chance to speak directly to the admission committee and you have 61 days to complete it.
Please don’t think that my goal here is to scare you (and I apologize if I did). Instead, I want you to take time right now (yes now – before you get busy with horse shows and your summer job and that reading list your English teacher sent home) to examine all of the resources around you that can inform and shape your essay and help you meet that August 1 deadline (or at least have a solid draft in time to meet early decision and early acceptance deadlines, which typically range from October 15 to December 1). From Internet sources to essay writing workshops, books, and even Gilmore Girls reruns (if you want to know what not to write about), there are a myriad of tools at your disposal – you just need to decide which ones will be of most benefit to you.
Let’s break them down:
- Internet sources – These can be anything from sample essays to expert guidelines and tips. The best part? The majority of this information is FREE for you to read and use. The downside? There’s a LOT of information out there and weeding through the good and the bad can be time-consuming – which isn’t good when time is in a bit of short supply. Reputable sources online include those maintained by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), U.S. News, and Peterson’s.
- Essay writing workshops – Are you the type of writer who does better with a ton of feedback and one-on-one or group writing support? Check with local educational organizations, your high school, or your favorite educational consultant (hint – the one writing this blog) to find out what workshops might be available in your area and what the cost will be. The best part? You’ll be able to get specific, personal assistance. The downside? It’s not free and essay workshop costs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on where you live and what’s included. (Shameless plug – mine is available nationwide via Skype, offers two 5-week sessions starting either June 16 or July 28, and I’ll give a 20% discount to any new sign-ups who mention this blog post.)
- Books – A quick search of Amazon’s library will quickly reveal that a lot of books have been written on this topic over the years and there is a guide for every type of application and every essay topic under the sun. The best part? You can read a lot of really good essays within their pages to help fuel your own imagination. The downside? Reading all of those outstanding essays might stifle your own ideas or make you afraid that whatever you produce will never measure up. (After all, they were published in a book for a reason, right?)
- Gilmore Girls reruns – I was actually kidding about the reruns. You’re better off putting the time into brainstorming and drafting essays than watching Rory Gilmore fill out her application to Harvard.
There’s an outstanding essay in you somewhere, students and I suspect it won’t take all 61 days between June 1 and the Common Application going live for you to find it if you can find the right tools to support your own personal creative process. And while the essay is one of the most important parts of your application (a point I cannot underscore enough!), it’s also nothing to fear because you’re already an expert on the topic of yourself and that’s what colleges want to learn about.
The countdown is on – get out there and make me proud!