The Showcase Magazine - Articles

By: Erik Slagle

If you’re the parent of a high school senior, you’re likely at the tail end of application season – or at least gearing down for a holiday break before regular decision and rolling admissions applications go out. If your child is a junior (or even a sophomore), they may be hearing from friends and the nebulous “influencer” crowd that they’re somehow behind the eight-ball if they aren’t already thinking about college applications.

Either way, there’s a good chance writing application essays have been, or are about to become, a source of serious stress in their (and your) lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Many students, and even some educators, feel that the road to your strongest essay needs to be a long and winding one, starting months in advance and ending with a perfect, polished body of work that could change the world. Or, at least, change the minds of Admissions officers reading it. In my experience as a college advisor though, it takes no more than 21 days – just 3 weeks – of focused, committed work to pull it off:

  • 3 days to brainstorm, answering some basic questions to mine your experience for topics that will engage, entertain and inform readers.
  • 3 days to draft, tackling the Introduction and Conclusion first, then filling in 2-3 short body paragraphs that tell your story.
  • 3 days to let it “simmer” – share it with teachers, family members, or an admissions coach if you like, but leave it alone yourself and get some space between you and your writing. This is a secret even the world’s best-known writers follow.
  • 10 days to revise, starting with the big picture first: is it delivering the right message? Have I tied this story back to why I want to go to college? Does it start with an interesting “moment in time” instead of a generic restatement of the prompt? Give it one or two passes examining these bigger issues.
  • 2 days to clean up the “technical” editing: punctuation, word choice, etc. Use your app’s find/change tool to catch repetition of words and phrases. Try to eliminate phrases like “pursue my passion,” “further my knowledge,” and “give me experience.” Finally, do a final word count check and make sure you’ve gotten it in under 650. (And no, an essay doesn’t need a title or your name on it.)

I’ve guided hundreds of students through the essay process over 20+ years in this business; trust me when I say that I understand the stress. But this process works. Essays, including shorter supplemental statements, provide an opportunity to tell a compelling story. You’re not selling yourself as the perfect college applicant. You’re showing readers why you’re the right applicant for THEIR school. More than

ever, colleges want to know that you are a strong student who’s going to be a positive influence on their community, someone who’ll engage with the student body and try to leave the campus a better place than they found it. It doesn’t take a brilliant piece of literature to tell that story about yourself, and it doesn’t take months of work and stress to put that story onto the page!