An Inside Look at College Applications

October 11, 2017

The air gets crisp, the leaves begin to fall from trees, the day is cut short by nightfall. Yep, it’s that time of year again: college applications. While the start of a new school year means just another nine months of waking up at 6 AM and late nights full of homework for underclassmen, it means something else entirely for seniors. For us, the beginning of 12th grade means it’s time to really get cracking on those college applications. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t all wait until a couple months before deadlines to start working, but I can probably count on one hand the number of kids ready to apply.

So what is the big deal with the dreaded personal statement? It’s just a 650 word response to a prompt, right? If only. It’s not until you start brainstorming ideas that you realize just how hard it is to make it personal. We spend years being told not to use personal pronouns or opinions in all our essays for school, and suddenly we need to be personal and creative in one of the most important essays we’ll ever write. It’s tough to find a voice that you’ve suppressed for so long. In my opinion, the most difficult part is deciding what exactly you want to write about. Conjuring up answers to questions about what makes us unique or life-changing experiences we’ve had doesn’t exactly come easily to the majority of us. If I were to give any advice about writing a personal statement, I’d say that you should come up with a list of personal qualities you have that you want colleges to know about, things that are left out of your resume. Working backwards like this helps you determine the course you want your essay to take and can help you think of ideas for anecdotes to include. Don’t be discouraged when you show your essay to your teacher or counselor and they don’t seem enthusiastic about it. I’m working on my fourth topic right now and I still don’t know if it’ll be the one I use.

So, what happens when you finish your essay? Well, then you can get started on the seemingly endless supplemental questions and essays specific to the colleges you’re applying to. This may seem like a walk in the park, after all, you just wrote a whole personal essay. But don’t be misled. When you’re filling out your Common App questions, you’ll check off one box, and another open ended question will appear. Before you panic, you should know that you’ve already answered some of these questions. Those potential college essays you took the time to write and didn’t end up using will be helpful after all. As a matter of fact, you can recycle most of your old essays for the supplemental questions. I still wouldn’t save this for the last minute, but hey, at least you’re partway there.

When it comes down to it, my best advice would be to have your Common App almost completed before the school year starts. It can be hard to get started, so getting a head start can prevent a lot of stress down the road. It’s also best to have it done early just in case something comes up later on with your application that you forgot about. Just know your deadlines and always be done before them.

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