The Perks of Starting your Common Application Essay Over the Summer

Summertime is full of potential. In the months before you begin your senior year, you might be busy with family vacations, internships, volunteering, work, or spending time with. The beginning of school feels far away, and likely, so do the college applications. You might be beginning to look at colleges or narrow down your options. You might have visited your dream school twice already. Maybe you have taken a look at the Common Application essay prompts or maybe they feel like a distant mirage. No matter where you are and what you’re doing, beginning to work on the college applications may not be top of your list, but it should be; here’s why.

Writing a quality essay takes time, and it’s vital in making you a competitive, stand-out candidate. No one writes a top essay overnight. It takes time to brainstorm and ensure you’re choosing the best topic, time to actually write the essay, and more time in the editing phase where you’ll be refining your approach and your writing. In the years I’ve worked with students, I’ve found that those who heed my advice and get started over the summer months have better essays and feel more confident and assured throughout the admissions application process. Those who wait often feel stressed and frantic, balancing the primary Common Application essay with supplemental essays, school work, and activities.

In starting over the summer, you likely have fewer obligations. You don’t have classes and activities like you will during the school year. The Common Application doesn’t open until August, so it’s a little early to actually begin filling out and submitting anything. However, the essay prompts are released in January, so you can begin to look at prompts and consider how to write your essay. It gives you a jump start on completing a massive portion of the application that will go out to all universities you apply to. Taking advantage of the precious open times allows you more time and energy to really hone in on the essays and give them the attention they so crave.

With this additional time, you have more time to simply think about their topic. You can take a few days to write down different ideas and sit with them. You can consider how each might fit into your application as a whole and collect anecdotes or points you might make within a topic. As you take this time, a natural choice might arise that begins to feel like the right fit. If something doesn’t rise to the surface, you have space to assess without feeling the weight of time. With this, you’re more likely to make a decision that you feel confident about.

Since you have the summer months, you also have more time when you get into the actual writing phase. Before you sit to begin writing, I always suggest freewriting or brainstorming to collect ideas. What are some anecdotes for your topic? What are your personal impressions? Why is it significant to you? Dig into some details and do some soul searching before committing anything to paragraph form. See what arises what are allow yourself to think more freely about the topic. You might do this for a couple days before you sit to write.

While you have more space for writing, I would recommend trying to get a rough draft completed within a couple of days. This might feel fast or surprising, but the truth about writing is that a lot of the process actually occurs through editing and rewriting. Let yourself write a full rough draft, be it too long, too short, too boring, too flowery. Get all your initial raw thoughts out on paper. This will allow you to see what you are thinking about tangibly on the page.

Now, because you’ve heeded my advice and started in the summer months, you don’t have to hop right into revisions. Give yourself a day or two away from your essay. Don’t read it. Try not to think about it too much either. This time away will allow you to return to it with fresher eyes and ideas. You’ll be able to see what it’s actually saying, versus what you think and want it to say.

Once you’ve given yourself some time away, doing whatever else your summer entails, return to your essay. Simply read it through. What are your impressions? Do you still feel the same as when you wrote it? Do you realize that there might be places for expansion? Or has it potentially evolved in a new direction you have yet to explore?

This is the beauty of having more time — and the true benefit of beginning over the summer.

You’ll begin to think different about your essay when you reapproach it, and thus, you’ll enter the revision and rewriting stage. The extra time allows you to be more precise and thoughtful about what you do and don’t want to include. Would going in a different direction allow for better personal insight? Was the first take perhaps a bit cliché? How can you make it original?

The polishing and refining of essays can take time. Especially if you have other people read and edit as well, they will have different opinions on how to bring it to its final product. You’ll have to sift to their advice for what to take and weigh it with your own intentions for the essay.

When I work with students, we run through an average of four essay drafts. I encourage them as I’ve detailed in the beginning of this article to be open to the potentials of the essay. Entertain different ideas and brainstorm content. Then write. Write what you want to say and don’t worry yet if it’s perfect. Get ideas down on paper so you and others can begin to craft it into what it was always meant to be, what you always wanted to say. With the writing manifested, you can go back and read, rewrite, and edit it into a finalized, refined essay.

Because the summer allows for more space and time without everything that the school year brings, it is a lot easier to focus on the essay, as well as give it time to breathe which is equally as important.

If an essay of this length and importance is due within a week, you simply won’t have the luxury of time to give the writing and editing process its fair time to unfold. Beginning early allows you more time and energy to pour into the essay to make it incredibly you.

Not to mention, if you begin over the summer with your Personal Statement essay, this is a massive portion of the application itself completed. With it out of the way, you’ll be able to more fully enjoy your senior year and make memories with friends. You won’t have a major essay looming over you and can be present for school dances, sports games, club activities, and impromptu hang-outs.

Starting over the summer is simply a win-win — for a better essay and a freer you.


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