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Writing the College Admissions Essay: How Early is Too Early To Start?

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The time has come. Flowers are blooming. The frost has permanently (we hope!) melted from the trees. Students everywhere have taken the incessant checking of their Instagram feeds to the fresh air of the outdoors. Spring has finally arrived, and with it comes a daunting task – beginning the college admissions essay.

We are often asked how early we would suggest students dig into the college admissions essay, specifically the 650-word personal statement assigned by the Common Application. The simple answer is that it is never too early to begin compiling a shortlist of meaningful life events and narrowing down which of those stories might make for an insightful and compelling read for admissions. That said, there are a few things to think about before throwing yourself full force into the essay-writing process:

It might be too early to start your college admissions essay if…

  1. The official Common Applications essay questions have not yet been released. Fortunately for students hoping to apply during the 2014-2015 admissions cycle, the Common Application was already kind enough to release their official questions, which, thankfully, remain the same as the prompts from last year’s fully overhauled application.
  2. You think an upcoming work, travel or other experience might yield a good essay topic. Most of our students already have a set agenda for the summer, and many of those plans have the potential to inspire exploration, unearth new friendships and show students a perspective on the world they have not yet encountered. Give yourself the opportunity to live these adventures before you settle on a final essay topic. You can begin to brainstorm and freewrite on other topics before these activities begin if you feel so compelled. But don’t put in the hard work and ample time it takes to craft a stellar essay without leaving room to consider your last few potentially meaningful experiences as a high schooler.
  3. You are loaded down with regular schoolwork. Getting a head start on any assignment is ideal, especially something as influential as your college admissions essay. Still, don’t let your desire to get ahead negatively impact your current studies. While your essay can have an enormous impact on admission, so do your grades – don’t sacrifice concentration on your classes for small steps forward in the admissions process. We promise, you will have all summer to work on your essay.

All of that said, we are the last people to try and push our students away from getting an early start in this department, and there is a lot students can do to prepare themselves for the essay writing challenges/process ahead.

It’s never too early to…

  1. Brainstorm. The only thing harder than coming up with a winning college essay idea is trying to force yourself to come up with that idea on demand, and within a limited time period. Why not give yourself a head start and an opportunity to let the ideas flow while the pressure is off? All you have to do is flip the switch that awakens your awareness to potential ideas. You may come across possible essay topics while working on your everyday school assignments. Something your mom says at the dinner table may set off a light bulb. Start to take notice of these ideas and write them all down. It will make the intentional brainstorming process so much easier when you’re ready to begin. A page full of ideas, even half-baked ones, can easily inspire a whole new round of more thoughtful and viable topics to consider.
  2. Map out a schedule and plan of attack. While you might not be able to start writing before the summer comes, you can certainly figure out when your time will free up. Schedule a hard date to sit down at your computer and get started. Get it in your head now that you’re going to get an early start on this essay. Know it. Accept it. Feel the realness of it. And then forget about it until the scheduled date arrives.
  3. Hire a consultant. The best essay consultants are always in high demand, and many advisors’ schedules fill up long before a student’s junior year comes to a close. While you might not want to begin work on your essay until the summer arrives, it is never too early to lock down a coveted spot with an expert advisor who will help set you viable schedules, brainstorm fascinating topics and beat away writers’ block.


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