Year after year, students and families take on the college application process with a balance of excitement and trepidation. The excitement is usually around the opportunity to explore what’s next after high school, thinking about the future, preparing for change, and enjoying milestones that come with finishing up the high school experience. 


The same sentiments are not often felt when it comes to the college essay. Yet, while an important part of many college applications, it too can be an exciting, albeit challenging, part of the process. 


When assisting students with developing the essay, I remind them the essay is simply a window into their soul – a story about their life that an admissions counselor may otherwise not know by reading their application.  Here are some simple steps to get started on the road to an excellent college essay: 


Spring of 11th Grade: 

  1. Review the Common Application Essay Prompts and choose one (1) topic that is most appealing
  2. Spend 20-25 minutes doing a free writing session. Do not be concerned with length or grammar or punctuation; rather focus on getting all initial ideas, thoughts, and feelings out on the paper. 
  3. Choose 1-2 people who can assist you with advice, feedback, and editing skills. Ask them to help you talk through your free writing session. 
  4. After the free write and discussion sessions, write one full draft of the essay. Then, step away from the essay until August


Late Summer and Early Fall of 12th Grade: 

  1. After a couple of months away from the first draft and enjoying the summer experiences, sit down to review the first full draft of the essay to determine if the topic and content is still relevant
    1. If you need to change topics then follow steps listed above (Spring of 11th grade) 
    2. If you think the topic is still a good representation of who you are, then do a major edit of that first draft
  2. Share this updated second draft with an editor and discuss the content, themes, sentence structure, etc. 
  3. Make appropriate changes based on editor feedback and develop a third, final draft of the essay 


The best advice many students will hear time and again is to have no more than 2 editors to assist with the process and asking close family members is not ideal.  Look to college counselors (both independent and school-based) since this is their area of expertise, or a trusted teacher or friend with experience about how to effectively write a college essay. 

Remember, the college essay is not meant to be perfect and it is not meant to sound like anyone else but the student. This is a wonderful addition to a college application and a well-written, thoughtful, and insightful piece of writing could be an emotional connection an admissions counselor needs to say ADMITTED.  


For further advice or guidance about how to write an effective college essay or general support throughout the entire college admissions process, please schedule a 15-minute complimentary call to learn about how NYC Admissions Solutions can help.