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Rising Seniors: The Time to Start Your Personal Essay is Now

Summer before senior year: a time for joy, the last chance to hang out for endless hours having fun. Also, the last chance to do anything that will meaningfully affect the strength of your application to college.

It’s important to start your Personal Essay now, not only to give yourself enough time to write a polished essay without huge time pressure, but also because if you start writing and realize there might be one more role you can take on this summer that can help you show what kind of person you are, you still have a chance to do something about it.  

Start with the “5 Adjective” exercise: Think of five short phrases or adjectives you’d like to use to describe the kind of person you are to an admissions officer. Imagine the admissions officer asking the question: what are we adding to our college community if we admit you? These descriptors should form the framework of the narrative of your application. Ask your parents and ask a friend to do the same exercise while thinking of you; you may be surprised at how others see you. Then, think of a moment in the last three years where you have demonstrated each of these characteristics. If you can’t think of one, think about this summer. Is there something you can do in the next three months that would be a great demonstration of that trait?

Draft the first version of your Personal Essay aspirationally. Look through the essay prompts for the Common App and pick one (remember that you can always choose the last prompt which is to write about anything you want!). What would you like to say about yourself by the end of the summer?  Then set a course of action to get it done and continue polishing your essay. You should aim to be done with it by the end of July, and you can go back to it in October—after the summer is done—and make any changes depending on what actually happened.

Starting August first, you should start working on the supplemental essays for each of the schools you are applying to. Start with the “Why Us?” essays if you have any. Those are the toughest to write because they require very specific research and it’s a good way to get you to think about the real, meaningful reasons you might choose to enroll in any particular college. If you can’t find a good reason to go there, it’s a good time to reconsider if you want to apply to that school.

If you take advantage of this summer, you will arrive to your senior year with low pressure to work on your applications and, in all likelihood, well written essays that will have meaningfully strengthened your applications.