The consensus among the experts in the college consulting business is that the summer before your senior year in high school is the best time to write your application essays. And there is no shortage of reasons to do this: you already know the schools you are applying to, you probably even have a good idea of your first choice school. In addition, a lazy summer offers you the time to get them out of the way before the insanity that will be your senior year begins. Even I offered the very same advice on this blog last summer. But I'm writing here to tell you that I have seen the light and am now disavowing what was at one time, sage advice. I have recently come to the conclusion that writing your college application essays now is the last (!) thing you should do over this final, great summer before college. And that if you want compelling, attention-grabbing essays that are the best reflection of who you are, having a fun, interesting summer and writing about these experiences in September best accomplishes this.
Last week I spoke with a rising senior who I will be working with on his college application essays. Like many other bright, motivated applicants I am lucky to work with every year, this one knows where he will be applying and has identified which school is his top choice. We discussed the essays casually -- what he needed, were there any which could be used twice, and the order in which we would start working on them. I was fully prepared to start working with him immediately until I asked him an innocent question which changed what I had always believed. "What are you doing this summer?" This applicant then proceeded to tick off a long list of what his summer looked like: counselor at a local day camp, a part-time job, one online class, and rebuilding a motorcycle in the garage with his dad. This kid had a lot going on! Then it hit me. The experiences he would be having over the next two months would be great experiences to write about. So I did what I have never done before that point -- I advised him to ignore the essays and have fun, to pay attention to what he was going through, and have an interesting summer instead. After we spoke, I called his mother to let her know my thoughts. I talked about how her son had so much going on this summer, better he wait and draw from these experiences in his essays. In September, he will have so much more to write about. And she agreed.
The college application essay is a place for admissions officers to see who you are beyond the numbers. What you do over this pivotal summer will inform and change who you are. Your experiences outside the classroom are what differentiate you from your peers.
So go and live! Forget about your college essays. They will still be there in September for you to tackle. Instead, fill your summer with a truckload of remarkable things over the next eight weeks. Forget about trying to: describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you experience there and why is it meaningful for you. Something my applicant goes through as a camp counselor will find its way into one of his essays. Someone he meets or comes into contact with at his part-time job will find its way into one of his essays. Something he learns from that online course will find its way into one of his essays. And some aspect of rebuilding that motorcycle in the garage with his dad will find its way into one of his essays. "September" isn't going anywhere!
I understand and accept that I may get blowback from this advice. After all, writing your college essays now over the summer has been the accepted practice among smart, motivated high seniors for years. And that's just fine. But perhaps there is now another line of thinking. My new client -- without even knowing it -- helped me to see the light. And after Labor Day when he starts in earnest to write his essays, he'll have so much more to write about, and a lot more to show the admissions people at the school he most wishes to attend.