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The Trick to Avoiding Supplemental Essay Burnout

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supplemental essay It’s mid-September and the school year is fully underway. You’ve been working steadily on your college applications, powering through the personal statement and filling in your Common App and Coalition profiles. Things are going well, but you’re starting to feel this flickering sense of blah-ness. Or maybe you haven’t started yet, and you’re watching essays pile up in a mountain you’re going to have to write your way to the top of. The outcome is starting to look bleak: Will this ever be over? Will you be able to finish everything in time?

You, dear student, may be teetering on the brink of a classic case of burnout, which can happen when you have to do a lot of (what feels like) the same thing over and over again. In the world of college applications, you’re likely to feel an overwhelming sense of doom and dread when you scan your list of supplemental applications; all of the schools on your list may be asking you to write one, two, even five additional essays. It’s a lot of work with seemingly little reward at this point, but we’re here to brighten up your day with a little magic trick. You can tackle all of these essays using two basic steps that will save you from the sameness trap and help you get everything done as efficiently as possible.

STEP 1: Don’t write.

What the what? Yeah, we said it. You don’t have to write your supplemental essays. Well, really, what we mean is you don’t have to write ALL of them. Colleges tend to ask a few common kinds of questions, and nothing feels worse than doing the same thing over and over again. So, your first crucial step is to change your mindset: you do not need to write a new essay for each individual prompt. Round up all of your supplemental essay prompts and look at them as a large, comprehensive assignment, rather than as a series of little individual assignments. Now, think strategically: what can you do to minimize the amount of writing on your plate?

STEP 2: Categorize and conquer.

STEP 2: Categorize and conquer.

As you change your frame of mind, you’ll start to notice how many of the supplemental prompts overlap. How many schools want to know about a meaningful activity? How many of them want you to talk about community contributions past, present, and future? Group all of the prompts into categories and work through them systematically. Two potential approaches we’d recommend here are:

  1. Start with the prompt with the HIGHEST word count requirement. Once you have the long version, you can very easily tweak it and pare it down for the other prompts in the same category.
  2. Or, start with the school that has the most pressing deadline. This strategy will probably work best for any folks who are planning on applying early. Prioritize the rapidly-approaching EA/ED deadline and then use your early essays as a jumping-off point for you to approach your other essay prompts.
  3. BONUS: If you’re applying early to more than one school, you’ll want to use a combination of both strategies. Isolate the supplements for your early schools and write in clusters, starting with the longest. Then start work on your regular decision apps.

Okay, we know, we know, you still actually have to get all of these essays done, but once you start thinking about the writing process as a strategic game, you’ll notice your world fill up with color. Each step you take will really feel like progress towards a goal, and we know you can do this.

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