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The Final Countdown: 2015’s Top 10 College Essay Tips

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college essay tips countdown 2015As 2015 draws to a close, year-end lists clog up all of our newsfeeds with reminiscences of the year’s best tunes, worst outfits, weirdest Snapchat filters, happiest chinchillas, and pretty much anything else you can think of. But we all know that the countdown to the new year means so much more than a welcome farewell to bucket hats (seriously, again?!). It ushers in the final college deadlines and the official graduation year of the class of 2016. We couldn’t be happier to have shared this essay-writing journey with you. So, to wish you luck, we created a “best of” list of our own, of our 10 favorite college essay tips from the past year. So, give these pearls of wisdom a final glance before you send your application off into the ether (or, you know, the internet).

10. The secret is in the stars. Whether you subscribe to astrology or not, horoscopes almost always give a list of positive and negative adjectives to describe the sign (eg. Leo, Virgo, Gemini, etc.) and then a description of how that sign behaves in certain situations.  Read through it briefly, laugh about its startling accuracies (or inaccuracies, as the case may be), and take note of the helpful things.  “Ambitious, loyal, confident, and generous?  Why yes, I AM all of those things and as a matter of fact, if I wasn’t so ambitious that one time I never would have gotten that award!” And just like that, you have unearthed a gem of a story to write about!

9. Example essays are not Mad Libs. It doesn’t work to simply take someone else’s structure or style and ape it in your own work. When you read examples (if you must), examine the strategies writers use to showcase their unique personalities. What do you learn about each writer that you didn’t know before?

8. Write in the very early morning. Waking up is hard to do. Still, there is something about a rested brain and the dim light of dawn that brings out the magic in many people’s writing. Not to mention that starting the day with a burst of creativity is bound to set you on the road to a productive day.

7. Be sparing with CAPITAL letters. Your major should only be capitalized in three specific cases: (1) it is a proper noun (like English or East Asian studies), (2) you are referring to the specific name of the department or school (like the School of Engineering or the Department of History), (3) it is the first word in a sentence. In all other cases, do not capitalize.

6. Ignore the Common App prompts until your first draft is written. The best way to write a stellar, original personal statement is to work backwards. All of the Common App options are broad enough to accommodate almost any story. So go ahead and take some cursory inspiration from these questions – then focus on the information you want to reveal and the gleaming personality characteristics you want to highlight and fit your accompanying tale to the prompts later.

5. Use essay overlap to your advantage. Cluster your supplemental questions into categories, line them up by length and start writing. Start with the longest essay in each category and cut down from there. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Identify where there is natural overlap in your target schools’ prompts and use it to your advantage.

4. Follow Beyoncé’s lead. Just trust us on this one.

3. Cancel your plans. If you’ve waited until the last minute to write some of your essays, there isn’t a single “hack” out there that will add more hours to your day. We know clearing your schedule doesn’t sound fun, but it’s one of the kindest decisions you can make for yourself. Create some space in your day that you can really devote to thinking about – and writing! – your essay(s) without distraction.

2. Let it gooooo!

1. Call for help! We still have a few more slots available for essay reviews or liberal arts applicants with deadlines in late January and February. We’re here for you!

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