New Year, New Plans

By Adela Penagos, PhD, President

I was packing for an upcoming trip when the phone rang. A student who had been deferred by all colleges from early action (EA) to regular decision (RD) wanted to see if I would work with him to update schools on all accomplishments to date since he had applied. I asked many questions and requested the essays he submitted as part of his application. While the essays were interesting and told many stories, I could not clearly gather why he was applying to the particular school he claimed was his dream. Frankly all the essays had many narratives running through them, and, most did not seem to be connected: they spoke about everyone else, but the student.

The Common App prompts for the upcoming admissions cycle were released yesterday and my hope is that juniors take the time to think carefully what prompt best allows them to tell his/her compelling story. My New Year’s resolution is to help you plan to write an essay that will make you stand out.

1.    Select the Prompt that Appeals the Most to You.

Remember that you are the one applying to college and admissions counselors want to get to know you. This is not about the prompt that appeals the most to your mom, dad, cousin, or guidance counselor. It has to be about you. A story that has helped you become the person you are today and is going to shed light into a part of yourself that the reader cannot find elsewhere in the application. 

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2.    Do not recycle or repeat.

This essay is for one of the most important journeys in your life. Therefore, this is not the place to be repeating the same story over and over or to copy and paste sentences from another essay that fail to connect to the narrative as a whole. Do not underestimate the fact that admissions counselors read applications for a living and that they are able to figure quickly when someone is recycling material. 

3.    Revise, reread, and edit.

he beauty of the prompts coming out this early is that they provide you with the most wonderful opportunity to plan in advance how your want to approach your general essay. After selecting your prompt, start with an outline, then begin to write and do not be afraid to put aside the essay for couple of days or even weeks and then revisit it. It is also important to edit for any typos or grammatical errors. My favorite part of the essay is asking the students I work with to read it aloud in front of the mirror: if they love it and are able to hear their own voice it is a go. Otherwise, we go back to the drawing board. 

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As you approach this New Year, plan ahead the various parts of your college application. In my experience, developing several milestones throughout the process will result in a more enjoyable senior year. Make the most of having the general essay prompts out this early and write a story that helps us get to know you. You are the center of your college application!