Your essay is what rounds you at as an applicant.
It is the only chance you have to speak directly to the admissions officer tasked with deciding whether to admit you to your dream college or not.
Make sure to follow these tips to ensure that your essay showcases the depth of your talents, accomplishments, and personality.
1. Start early but not too early: Junior Spring is ideal
Though people have different personal preferences, and you should write when you feel your able to produce your best work, Junior Spring tends to be the best time for most students to start their college essay writing process.
There are several reasons for this:
- You have the luxury of being able to try out many different ideas and essay formats, completely scrap a draft and start fresh, and get many people to review and comment on your essays.
- If you procrastinate, at least you have a few months to get back on track. If you procrastinate in December, well, you'll have the next 4 years to regret.
- Unless something incredible happens your Junior Summer, you’ve likely already experienced the story that you’ll write about for your college essays.
- And, unless you magically become possessed by the spirit of John Steinbeck during your Senior Fall English class, you probably are already in peak writing form.
2. Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks
No idea is too dumb or too risky to try out. 650 words is not a lot — it takes about an hour to get that much onto a page, so what do you have to lose?
Experimenting with style and what story you want to tell will help you refine your thoughts and perfect your narrative.
Imagine you are a writer on the staff of a popular comedy TV show, and imagine what some of those brainstorming sessions must be like. You’ve probably seen some really funny, really wacky stuff on TV, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg — what about all the even wackier ideas that got filtered out during those brainstorming sessions? If people didn’t feel comfortable throwing out bad ideas for feedback and refinement, then you’d never get the quality of TV that gets delivered to you, the end consumer.
Extending this analogy, the end consumer for your college application is an admissions officer, and they’re going to spend a maximum of 5 minutes watching your TV pilot. It's much better to get all your ideas out during the brainstorming sessions and see where they naturally go than risk delivering a half-baked essay built around one of those bad ideas.
3. Your essay is a story with a beginning, conflict, and resolution
Your essay should tell the reader something unique about yourself that is not captured elsewhere in your application.
If your essay simply restates the extracurriculars listed on your Common App, then the reader gains nothing from reading your essay. Instead, you’ve just wasted 650 precious words that could have added an entirely new dimension to your application.
Admissions officers read 100's of essays every year. Multiplied over a 10-year career, and they’ve seen pretty much every cliche. To get a sense of truly how bored real admissions officers get, see this Quora thread .
Their eyes will glaze over and skim paragraphs the second your essay loses steam. You need to keep things compelling and interesting enough to ensure that your essay gets fully read, as well as memorable enough to not be instantly forgotten.
4. Read other successful admissions essays for inspiration
Good artists copy, great artists steal.
For college essays, this only applies to high-level concepts and stylistic suggestions -- Obviously, don’t plagiarize. However, there are many resources online and in bookstores that contain past examples of successful essays.
If you want direct feedback on your essays from Harvard students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, visit us here.