November 1st has come and gone, and with it your Early Decision applications. Before you tackle the rest of your application essays take stock of where you are in the process. Here are five tips to make the next eight weeks easier and stress-free (and have you done by Christmas).
1) Do not, under any circumstance, take some time off! "Let's start my supplements in a few days," one of the applicants I am currently working with wrote me over the weekend. I know that this sounds like a great idea -- chill, relax, clear your head. But really, there can't be a worse thing to do. Writing your essays uses a specific muscle. And when those muscles are dormant, they atrophy. In short: Keep moving! You're on a roll! Why take time off? Starting your supplements immediately after finishing your ED applications gives you the luxury of time! (This becomes important in tip #5.) Do you really want to be holed up in your bedroom on Christmas or New Years Eve struggling to put into words why you want to attend (insert name of school here)?
2) Do you have a master list of what essays you need? No? Make one! Copy and paste each supplemental prompt, with its requirements (word/character/count) into a single document. This master list is going to make you feel good in so many ways. It will let you see exactly what you need and knowing this will make things easier. Keeping organized will make the whole process seem less overwhelming. And finally, think of how great you'll feel when you cross each one off the list one by one.
3) Mix that list up! And by mix it up, I mean write them in whatever order keeps you engaged and your creative juices flowing. After I finish an essay with an applicant, I purposely try and choose an entirely different essay for the next one. For instance: After we finish Yale's 500-word supplement, I suggest we do Columbia's 300-word next, then Brown's three short answers. This keeps things fresh and fun. Shaking things keeps the tedium of writing the essays to a minimum and prevents "idea fatigue."
4) Figure out which prompts appear more than once. Some schools have the exact same, or very similar, prompts. Do you know what this means? Less essays! Stanford has, "write a note to your future roommate," and Harvard has a similar prompt. So for my applicants applying to both schools (I have three this year) that's one less essay to write. Cross two essays off your master list! Also, since the UC schools have a personal essay, (two essays in total) you can use your Common Application Essay for that personal essay. And again, that's one less essay to write. See how this works?
5) Once you finish an essay, do not consider it a final draft. "Is this a final draft," my applicants always ask me. And unless there is a ticking clock and applications are due that day or the next, I always reply, "doesn't have to be." Think of it like this: You see a movie or read a book and a week or a month later, you're a different person and you might see or think about it differently. So don't call that essay a final draft just yet. If that applications isn't due until January 1st, there's plenty of time to read it later, make changes, kick it up a few notches. Take advantage of the eight or 10 weeks you have left.
College applications don't have to be a hard slog even though you see them that way. If you're in a fun mood, you will enjoy the process and be at ease with what you're doing; this will be reflective in what you produce. Stressing out or putting pressure on yourself will not make for a fun read. And at the end of the day, your supplement may be the first essay the admissions counselor will read. Or it may be the 149th. Or it may be somewhere in between. So enjoy them. And do everything you can to make sure those who will be reading your essay will enjoy them, too!