By Allie Primak
Soon-to-be-senior summer fun goes like this: Sleep in late (and think about college essay), hang out with friends (and think about college essay), maybe get a job (and think about college essay)… and you can see where I’m headed from here.
For many rising seniors, the college essay (more specifically, the 250-650 word essay on the common app) seems to always be sitting in the back of their minds. High school juniors are generally encouraged, around May, to start thinking about what they want to talk about and to start brainstorming, drafting, and editing over summer break.
Some take summer classes to help with the daunting task, others try to avoid it at all costs (even with the nagging in the back of their heads), and a few wait until the moment strikes to write down their college-admission-masterpiece. No matter what method used, it’s almost impossible to know what makes up the perfect college essay.
I spoke with counselors Susan Batcheller, Dr. Paul Lowe, and Henry Del’Angelo to get their golden rules on writing the college essay over summer break. Hopefully this advice comes in handy not just for me, but for many who are in the same boat.
Retired GHS guidance counselor Susan Batcheller, who won Greenwich Public Schools Distinguished Teacher award in 2000, kept her advice concise and exactly to the point (just like a good essay should be):
1. Get stuff done over the summer.
2. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
3. If you have a sense of humor, use it!
Dr. Paul Lowe is the President and CEO of Pinnacle Educational Center, LLC. His directions for dealing with the best ways to come across well to readers:
1. The essay must be an unmatched work of art where the first line captures the complete attention of the reader and the admissions committee!
2. Most students are taught to sound exactly alike on paper and sound unique just like everyone else. In my experience, the students who are accepted to Ivy League and top-tier colleges are those who can standout and lucidly articulate their achievements, goals and personalities as future contributing members of an incoming class in a positive light to a committee of six to ten diverse people!
3. The supplemental essays add dimension and depth to the main essays and are school-specific. The short-answer essays may seem simple but are quite complicated. The main purpose of a short-answer essay is to see if your answer can be clear, concise and meaningful in the allotted space.
Henry Del’Angelo: The Gift of Time, The ‘Why Us?’ Question, & Avoiding “Senior Shangri-La”
Lastly, Henry Del’Angelo, guidance counselor at Joel Barlow High School in Redding and founder of Your Key to College, believes that writing the college essay is the last big push to the whole process. Seniors-to-be should stay motivated and get all of their work done while time is still all theirs:
1. It’s hard to get back into it since you’re out, it’s summer, and you want to stay in that mode. But writing the college essay is the last big push, and after this year your summers will be yours. The first motivator is that this is the last time [things like SATs, AP prep, high school summer reading] will be thrust upon you. The second motivator is that writing the essay over the summer is a short term sacrifice for a long term gain. You are going to thank yourself, because later it will be hard to carve time out aside from homework and studying for tests, etc, to write it. To not take advantage of this unencumbered time is a waste.
2. A lot of schools have essays asking “why us?”. And in their applications they have a lot of overly qualified candidates, but they need kids that will fit their campus. They want to know what you know about their school. So you really have to spend time figuring out: why that school?
3. [In your essay], you don’t want to be something you’re not. Don’t be too controversial– it’s okay to have an opinion. Also, always answer the question. Often times students will disregard the question and answer the one they want to answer.
And some extra advice for when summer ends:
“Don’t discount your senior year. If you have a horrible first semester it will be really hard to still be competitive and appealing to schools. Many students crest at junior year and it’s unfortunate… they view everything after that as a sort of “senior Shangri-la.” And then they don’t get in because colleges saw a dip. The more you can focus on academics your first semester, the better” (and it will be especially easier if you have that college essay aside already).
Guidance counselors are one of the many sources of advice that students can go to for help with summer work and starting their essay. I think it’s worth it to talk to teachers or even to do individual research. A book that I would recommend for all the incoming seniors who simply feel stuck is the 3rd edition of 100 Successful College Application Essays by members and staff of the Harvard Independent. It acts as a good source of inspiration for what to write about, and even without the motive of scouring frantically to find essay help, the essays on their own make pretty interesting reads. The best of luck goes out to peers who will be college applicants in the months to come, and hopefully summer isn’t starting to feel like school already.