Monday, May 26, 2014

When Do I Start to Worry? #CommonApp & #CollegeEssays?

When it comes to college application essays, there's a fine between worrying too much and not worrying enough, between starting too early and waiting until it's too late to comfortably do a first-rate college application essay or five or ten of them. 

Some college counselors do a hard sell and try to drum up business by drumming up frenzy and anxiety early on. That's not my style. In the last few months, I've been blogging about general issues related to college admissions and applications, without getting into the nitty gritty of the essays themselves. Not worrying about the essay can be just as important as knowing when to start worrying about it. And in place of "worrying," let's substitute "planning." 

For one thing, the only essay we're sure about now is the Common Application essay, which will be the same set of prompts used last year, so even if you wanted to start doing your essays now, the only one you could do is the Common App. All the supplementary essays, and those for schools that don't use the Common App and its essay (a good number of state schools, art schools, and conservatories) are not yet posted and won't be posted until summer. And most applications can't be submitted until late summer or early fall. 

But Memorial Day Weekend is a turning point in the calendar, and though it's not the official start of summer, it marks a transition in the direction of summer - and it's a good time to start thinking about formulating lists of prospective colleges and the essays that they might require. For many families, it's a time to plan to put aside time to do the Common App essay and the supplements, when we know for certain what they'll be. Students can get a good idea of the kinds of essays that will show up by looking at last year's requirements. FYI: They are far more demanding and varied than "Why do you want to go to this college?" 

If you're planning ahead for yourself or your son or daughter, please keep me in mind. I work with students around the world via Skype, and in person in New York City, Boston, and, for three weeks this July, on Martha's Vineyard, where I will be giving two two-week long workshops on doing the Common App essay, and seeing students privately, in person and via Skype. You DO NOT need to be on the Vineyard to work with me during these weeks.

To read more about my approach, the Vineyard workshops, the colleges my clients have gotten into, and to read testimonials, please visit my website: Don't Sweat The Essay or email me at 

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