A New Strategy for College Essay Success

The pressure of the college essay process is palpable. For rising seniors faced with the impending start of their last year of high school, the formalization of their first college applications, and the reality of finishing up their testing plan, the added weight of the personal statement and supplements required by colleges can quickly feel overwhelming. However, that being said, prolonging the start of this writing process will only lead to more stress and, most importantly, essays that lack sufficient patience, reflection, and clarity of thought.

The Importance of the College Essay

There is nothing more disappointing to an admissions officer than a student with a promising academic profile who doesn’t follow through with the written portion of their application. The point of the college essay is to give students space to show their emotional maturity and reflect on who they are and/or how they’ve grown. With that in mind, in this blog post I will expound upon a helpful long-term strategy that will make writing the actual essay(s) a lot easier when the time comes. 

Words a Week for the College Essay

The name of this strategy is Words a Week, and, in execution, it is quite simple. At the end of every week – or every two weeks depending on the time of year and/or one’s routine – a student commits to sitting down for five minutes and jotting their thoughts and reflections on their experience since they last wrote. As the title of the exercise implies, this writing session does not have to yield an eloquent essay, or, really, even a paragraph of text. A few sentences or phrases will suffice as long as they strike at the heart of what the writer felt most strongly that past week and what it taught them.

Focus on Reflection

The key to Words a Week is reflection. As long as the writer pushes to be vulnerable and in-touch with what they’ve actually felt, the exercise will be a success with every subsequent writing session. Even a few phrases is better than nothing. In fact, a three-word statement that exudes reflection is much better than a bland paragraph of summary. Let’s look at an example of what I mean below. In the following example our student has experienced the same thing the week before at school. When they sit down to do Words a Week, they write one of the two following statements: 

Helpful – Bad grade on Geometry quiz. Anger. Turned to resolve. Studied more than I ever have. Improvement on end-of-week test. Learned that I have fire in my belly and, when channeled, that it can be a powerful source of strength for me. 

Not as helpful – I was really mad at my teacher, Ms. Ambrose, because she gave me a horrible grade on my quiz in geometry. I can just never remember what the formula of isosceles triangles are. Any of them. At lunch I vented to my friends and they were really sympathetic and said they also didn’t like Ms. Ambrose. I thought about it all of swim practice. Then later in the week I did a lot better on her test and loved the satisfaction of making sure that she knew that I was smart. 

Focus on Your Strengths for a Successful College Essay

As we can see, our helpful example above shows the student focusing more on their own growth by reflecting on the internal struggle that they had and how that manifested itself in a better test score. On the other hand, the second example blames external factors and shows no throughline between the bad grade and the good grade, making the student seem bitter and not cognizant of their own growth.

Start Early

We recommend that students start a Words a Week journal at the beginning of their high school experience. That way, once the time for college essays rolls around, they will have scores of experiences from which to draw inspiration. The key to Words a Week is consistency and brevity. That way, students will be able to develop their skills of reflection while building an invaluable resource in the journey toward essay success.

If you have any questions about writing a successful college essay or the college application process, please contact us.