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When Should I Start Writing College Essays?

We invite you to consider the following factors that will impact the quality of college essays

While we recommend you start working on college essays at least 4-6 months before they are due, we
also know that there are as many ways to work as there are students. Each one of you has your own
pace, commitments, goals, availabilities – and we want to honor that. Instead of telling you
when to start, we invite you to consider the following factors that tend to impact the quality of college
essays.

1. Strategizing Essays

While most essay prompts are released in around August, colleges rarely make massive changes to prompts from previous application cycles. As such, you can use last year’s prompts to start thinking about your essays early.

The admissions officers want to see you as a person – beyond the sum of your grades, SAT scores, number of extra-curricular achievements, awards and honors. The evaluation process is holistic – which means that the product of your application journey should also be well-rounded. Depending on the schools you apply to, you will be required to write either long- or short-form essays, the lengths of which can vary from 150 to 650 words. Some schools might also ask short-answer questions such as ‘what are your favorite books?’ or ‘what brings you joy?’.

You can imagine that a strong application means not just ‘good writing,’ but also ‘good strategizing’. Before you begin to write, you should have a plan for every essay that presents you as a well-rounded student, while also promoting the key message you want to convey to Admissions Officers. Thinking and brainstorming takes time – sometimes weeks, sometimes months. Consider the amount of time you would likely need to create specific outlines for each application segment. 

2. Writing and Editing

After brainstorming comes writing. After writing comes editing. Many students – especially those who identify as good writers – seem to believe that once they have an outline of their essay, the writing will be a cakewalk. While some students may be confident in their ability to rush applications at the very last minute, we do not recommend it. On an average, it takes about 4-6 drafts for any given essay to become worthy of submitting. Multiply this with the number of essays you have to write, and you get the number of editing rounds you will have to sit through!

Each round of editing will cater to various aspects of the essay – structure, tone, storyline, copyediting, and more. Therefore, to ensure that each essay receives the care it deserves, you need to give yourself enough time. Make early calculations about the volume of essays you are required to complete to give yourself a clear sense of the incoming workload. This clarity should allow you to budget your time accordingly.

3. New Stories Emerge

Sometimes, when you have written two to three drafts of an essay, you may realize that another idea might actually fit the prompt better. You ask yourself the question – do I go ahead with my current idea, or do I rewrite the essay from scratch?

It can be hard to contain the itch not to re-write. If such situations arise, you want to give yourself the creative license to toy around with ideas. After all, there is nothing more demoralizing than having to send in an application when you know you had something better to offer – if only you’d had the time to write it. When creating your essay-writing schedule, therefore, don’t forget to factor in your own creative wanderings! 

4. Factoring in Other Commitments

College applications are written during your final year of high school. With that said, most of you will be busy with exams, CCAs, standardized tests – all of which you’ll try to accomplish to the best of your ability. Throw preliminary and internal exams to the mix, and the months leading up to your application deadlines will suddenly turn into the busiest time of your life. All at once, your attention will be divided, you will attempt to multi-task, and your sleep will be compromised.

One way to avoid this can be thinking of your college application process as an additional CCA. No piano teacher would ever recommend picking up the piano three weeks before the concert date, while also playing competitive tennis, attending Model United Nations, and studying for A-Levels. With this in mind, allocate enough time to both familiarize yourself with the college application process and eventually carry it out from start to finish. Make sure to delineate this entire process on your personal calendar, too!

5. Feedback

It helps to send essay drafts to your teachers, counsellors, peers, and your IvyPrep consultant for constructive feedback. While it is true that too many cooks can spoil the broth and leave you rather confused about what you were trying to convey in the first place, getting one or two extra pairs of eyes on your work can elevate your essays to new heights. However, don’t forget that you want to allow plenty of time for those reviewing your essays to read through them and leave insightful remarks thereafter. 

6. Last Minute Mishaps

No matter how early one may begin their college application process, no one is truly immune to illness, technical difficulties, exam cancellations, or perhaps even another pandemic. Things happen – we know they do – and we completely sympathize. You may even realize that you want to apply to a school that you had never considered before. To do yourself justice, account for these last-minute mishaps – under no circumstance do you want to be re-writing an essay at 11:00 p.m., if it’s due at 11:59 p.m. that same day!