This is as crucial a time for me as it is for all of you Seniors. I've been reading about the application process for years, and now my first deadline is less than a month away. Panic? Not really - that was for junior year. I've ultimately learned how to control that inevitable anxiety about the process by doing things early and learning to objectively critique my own application and essays.
I've now written my main Common App essay, main supplemental essay that I'll be sending in a few applications, and my personal statement via the Common App's "additional information" section. "How are you managing?" people ask. Basically, I'm setting optimistic deadlines for my essays, teacher recommendations, and mountains of paperwork that come with this process. Now I have everything done... in rough form. I feel really relieved to have all of my essays at least started, even if I haven't edited them yet. The ideas are there, and I now have time to go back and revise, to help explain myself through these essays by connecting the thoughts and making sure everything makes sense.
I'm now onto stage two of the writing process: revising. As simple as this may sound, it's not just checking for grammar like you've likely gotten through high school doing: it's mapping your essay in an outline, making sure every point makes sense and logically flows from the one before it. The only way to be able to see this level of individual-point analysis is to start seeing things objectively. For me, this means putting at least two or three days between when you first spill out your ideas from when you next attempt to edit. You really need to pay attention to how you're telling the story, and not making any assumptions about what the reader already knows. This is really challenging, so if you haven't developed that eye for objectivity, give the essay to one of your parents, siblings, or friends to read. Chances are, you've skipped some logical links.
Brown University's Admissions Office Blog, and I would really suggest reading them. One point I love that helps with objective analysis is to outline your essay after you've written it to see if it met the criteria you wanted to get across when you started writing. What does it say about you? How could you tie in more information about yourself to make the essay resonate with and compliment your resume and transcript? The post on choosing a topic is really helpful also: there really aren't any cliché or exhausted topics, but there are definitely dull and typical ways to write about them. The post asks you to objectively ask yourself what the topic (and subsequent essay) says that makes you stand out from the applicant pool, and helps the admissions office see what you would contribute to the campus.
From the Brown University Admissions Office Blog, Prospects and Providence:
Getting a Personal: The Writing Process
Getting Personal - Choosing a Topic
The Personal Statement in Context
One thing I love about the Brown Admissions Office Blog, Prospects and Providence, is that their writers are real admissions officers at one of the most selective universities in the world, and yet they don't come off as intimidating. Everything is written to help the applicant, especially in terms of stress management and taking a really hazy process and breaking it down in to manageable pieces. As a final note, I couldn't agree with them more about their approach to taking the essays in context (the last article). Your essays are important, but try to focus more on ideas than writing at first, and everything will fall into place. The essay is ultimately just another tool for the admissions to learn about you, so put in the time and show off your skills. Embrace them and start writing and revising, seniors!
P.S. Hope you had an awesome Harry Potter Homecoming, BHS!