The time to start is now.

If You’re Not Done with Your College Application Essays Right Now, You’re Late

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Every year it happens. September rolls around, Labor Day BBQs end the summer with a side of slaw, and students all over the world wake up and realize that, in addition to schoolwork, they have to start working on their college admissions essays.

As someone who has been advising students on their college essays for two decades now, when I hear about someone waiting until September or (gasp!) October to start work on their submissions, I get stressed out for them. I cry at night. I eat boxes of donuts at a time. It’s possible those behaviors aren’t related to student procrastination, but the point is, if you haven’t finished (or started!) your college essays yet, the time is NOW. Here’s why:

1) The personal statement is not a one-day assignment.

No matter how much you think you’ve brainstormed, or how positive you are of your guiding idea and approach, the 650-word essay that will be sent to pretty much every school you apply to does not magically appear on the page fully formed on the first try. Even with the help of our well-trained, highly seasoned experts, students often take weeks to work on their drafts from conception through the final polish. We bounce ideas off each other to make sure the strongest stories are in play. We talk things through, and tweak and edit, and revise, and take an ice cream break, and tweak and edit some more. (And then I have a second ice cream break.) This process can be condensed, of course, but trust me: you want to leave yourself as much time to work through this process. Rushing is often the enemy of quality, and time crunches lead to stress and roughly six-hundred extra ice cream breaks for your parent/guardian/College Essay Advisor, which becomes unhealthy at some point, I’m pretty sure.

2) Supplements, baby!

My hope is that I’m not surprising you by telling you that most colleges and universities assign school-specific supplemental assignments in addition to the personal statement. Some of those assignments are fairly simple and straightforward. Others are complex and multi-part. Some even assign essays as long and creatively demanding as the personal statement itself! No matter which schools you are applying to and how much the prompts may overlap with each other, all of these assignments take time. This is especially important to consider for schools who offer an Early Decision, Early Action, or Rolling Admissions option, as those deadlines creep up quickly, demanding multiple finished essays for submission. So dig into that application platform and find those additional essays—yesterday if possible!

3) Guidance counselors are busy!

The only people I feel worse for than students who are running behind on the essay writing process are those students’ guidance counselors. Many counselors are working with a roster of dozens, even hundreds (!!), of students, sending out recommendation letters, shipping off transcripts and keeping everything generally organized. Anticipating the submission rush mere weeks (or days!) before official deadlines, many counselors now smartly require students to show proof of submission to schools weeks or even as much as a month in advance of the official due date. This gives them time to submit the appropriate materials to each school you apply to, while also allowing them to sleep and occasionally eat (maybe we can give them some ice cream, too—they deserve it!). Be nice to your guidance counselors and don’t be the person who submits 12 applications’ worth of materials to them two days before the deadline. They will love you for it, and you will also be finished! (Ice cream time!)

Okay, Stacey. WE GET IT. We need to start our essays now or preferably three months ago. But how do we start?

It’s easy. Just do it. Look up the Common App Essay Prompts to start brainstorming. Realize that the prompts don’t matter as much as the story you want to tell and keep thinking. Put your fingers on the keys and start typing. Use our tips and tricks if you get stuck. Contact us if you get really stuck. Just don’t give up. The only thing worse than starting your college admissions essays late is starting them really late. You can do this. We believe in you! (Now go!)

About Stacey Brook

Stacey Brook is an accomplished writer and admissions expert who has spent the last decade helping students conceptualize, edit and refine their college essays.

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