“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
-Benjamin Franklin

There is perhaps nothing more terrifying to high school students than the prospect of filling out maintains of electronic paperwork and sharing something interesting about themselves in 650 words or less. Our number one, and two, pieces of advice for tackling this challenge are to start early, and stay organized.

We recommend beginning essays and applications no later than the summer before senior year begins. Because the Common Application releases essay prompts well before the summer, students can begin brainstorming topics and drafting essays in July, leaving them plenty of time to perfect their writing over the following weeks and months. The Common Application itself opens around August 1 each year, and we encourage all students to complete the profile portion as fully as possible before school begins, especially if they plan to apply Early Action or Early Decision. We also help students begin to tackle applications for students that do not use the Common Application, such as those in the University of California system and other state universities. Remaining time will be spent on supplemental essays, financial aid documents, and preliminary scholarship searches if necessary. Our goal is to have the bulk of application materials completed by the end of October or November even for schools that students will be applying to via the Regular Decision admission plan. There is nothing worse than leaving holiday parties early because you never finished your college essays.

To help students stay organized, our instructors utilize shared documents, spreadsheets and calendars. Parents are welcome to be included as well, allowing them to stay informed and updated without needing to constantly check in with their students themselves.

 

The Essays

Students applying to schools on the Common Application will have a choice of seven prompts, listed below. Our instructors begin the essay process not with brainstorm drills or editing tips, but with an interview. We run students through a series of questions designed to uncover the fascinating tidbits that make them who they are—and that will make admissions officers pay attention. From there, we begin to discuss potential narratives, leaving students with free-writing prompts for deeper exploration into these ideas. Only once students have poured out these applicable anecdotes, feelings, sensory details, and facts do we begin to develop an essay outline. Students then move into working through prose drafts that are first conceptually and then line edited before reaching a final product. We admit that the process is time-consuming and intense, but we promise that it will lead to a polished piece of writing that accurately presents the intricacies of the student’s personality and potential.

Once students have completed the personal statement, we assist them with writing any required supplemental essays. Many institutions now have school-specific prompts, which can arguably be more important in the evaluation process than the personal statement itself. The topics could be anything from “Why do you want to go here” to “Hashtag to Describe Yourself” (University of Southern California 2017-18 application season) to “List the books you’ve read this year for pleasure” (Carnegie Mellon 2017-18 application season). The length of time required to complete these essays depends upon the length and topic, but the level of writing must remain as polished and personal as that used for the main essay. For those students facing multiple supplemental essays, our instructors will help them to best repurpose pieces of writing for as many essays as possible.

Common Application Essay Prompts
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.