As we discussed in our post “How To Start Your College Application Essay” last week, oftentimes, the first step in writing your essay is the hardest. But, it’s not the only step! Oh, were it so easy… even if after you get the idea, you have to write the darned thing! Still, the better prepared and better thought out your idea, the easier it will be to write your actual essay.
So, let’s get started. We presume you have already settled on an idea for your essay. Now, you might not be 100% set on it, but that’s okay. Think of this essay as a process, not a one shot deal like that homework you might have knocked out in an hour before “The Office” was on because you had to get it in if you wanted to pass and that class is boring and all you do is stare out the window and daydr… yea, put all that aside. This essay is not like writing that response at all. You really want to work with your idea in order to flesh it out completely.
Flesh it out, you ask? Yes – even if the essay is only a page long, it should have a well-defined structure. Take your idea and try to break it out into key points you want to convey. You want the person to get to know you better – this is not a sales pitch for why a particular college should accept you. The key points should work towards that goal, each one conveying something about how you see the world. After you come up with your key points, refine them in a way that each one logically links to the next one. If your points are something like “Volunteering has made me into a humanitarian” followed by “Passionate about Renaissance art”, take a step back and make sure you have a coherent idea for the entire essay. Sometimes, the challenge is you have many diverse interests instead of one overriding one in your life – how do you convey that? Simple – you don’t. Just pick the one that has the most meaning for you and write about that one. The rest of your application will convey that you have other interests as well.
Okay, you have your points down now, and they form a rough outline of your essay. It’s time to write! Everyone has their own style about this, but if you’re struggling, the best thing is to just get all your thoughts down on paper. Don’t fret about spelling or grammar at this point – the key is simply getting some content down so you can work with it later. Not everyone is ol’ Bill Shakespare anyway, nor do you want to be. You want your own authentic voice to shine through. Think about this process like you’re molding clay into a fine piece of pottery. You gotta start with the rough, unformed clay that your untamed heart fashions into… love (err, I may have just had a flashback to that scene in ‘Ghost’ with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore… maybe). Okay, okay, all you Tina Turners out there, you’re saying, What’s love got to do with it?
I’ll tell you what – this essay is your baby (well, til you hit send in a few weeks). You want to care about it like you would a child. Nurture it. Spend time with it. Rock it to sleep. Okay, scratch the last one, but still – after you knock out that first draft, go back and re-read every single word to see if each one strikes the appropriate tone. Then do it again. And again, until you get it to where you want it to be. And then you’re done! … right?
Nope, not so fast, slick. You have to see if your message reaches your audience. You cannot try directly with admissions officers (unless you happen to be the son or daughter of one, in which case… why are you writing? Chill – you’re already in, stop kissing up!). However, you can ask parents, teachers, advisors, mentors, random strangers even, to read your piece and see what they get out of it. Be forewarned – you may get a lot of conflicting advice. It’s not uncommon to get defensive, but remember: these people are helping you because you asked them for help on your college application essay. They have no need to be uselessly critical; they want what’s best for you too (except maybe the random strangers). Weigh their advice and incorporate whatever you feel adds clarity to the message you are trying to convey.
Once you are done revising, don’t hit send quite yet. Take some time away from your essay. Come back to it in a few days and read it aloud to yourself. See how it sounds. Reading it aloud is key, because it better represents how a reader who is new to your piece will interpret it in their minds, even if they read it silently. Plus, reading aloud is a helpful way to catch mistakes you might otherwise overlook while silently reading. If you feel that your essay is spot on, then congratulations! You have completed writing your college admissions essay!