52 Weeks to College: Week 33

Use this step-by-step process to start writing your college application essays
August 17, 2021

Drafting Your College Application Essays

Thanks to the work you’ve done over the last six weeks, you are ready to get started writing your essays. You are going to be surprised how much all your preparation pays off – most students report to us that they never knew how easy writing could be until they followed our step-by-step process. Beyond drafting your essays, you’ll keep up with other application related work that you’ve gotten started.

WEEK 33 TO-DOS

THIS WEEK

1. Choose 1-2 of your core essays to draft this week. Remember you are tackling essays — questions that require writing of more than 250 words — first, and leaving short answers and really short answers until later. Refer back to your Writing Map for the best place to start. Focus your first efforts on a main essay that you are going to use on many applications, for example the personal essay on the Common App. If you have more than one of these to draft, you can tackle both at the same time.

2. Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like if you will be submitting them. See our advice about these materials in Week 27 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.

3. Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what they are planning in terms of fall events for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing all their usual rounds to high schools, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area.

4. Continue researching scholarships. Refer back to Week 24 for tips on scholarship search services.

THIS WEEK AND EVERY WEEK

1. Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

2. Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

TIPS & TRICKS

1. Commit the time and energy necessary to produce your best essays for your college applications. Assume you’ll spend 6-8 hours per core essay. But that time will be spaced out over several weeks, so you should be able to incorporate it into your schedule without going crazy. Writing is a multi-step process that takes time and energy to do well. No one does their best writing in one draft. No one dashes off something profound in 30 minutes on the night before a deadline. No one produces a standout essay without devoting considerable time and energy. NO ONE.

2. Take it step-by-step. Draft, then revise, then finalize. Each of these steps in the writing process engages a different part of your brain and requires you to do distinct tasks. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do all three at once. That makes it much harder than it needs to be. Instead, do it step by step.

3. Draft. In this step, just write. Stephen King, a prolific writer, is noted for saying that when it comes to writing, “the scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” Getting started on your college application essays can be scary, but the only way to alleviate your fear is to start writing. Don’t worry about the quality of your writing at this point. You are in the drafting phase right now, so just start writing. If you are following the 52 Weeks plan, you will have time to revise and polish. But if you let fear get the best of you, you’ll find yourself staring down your deadline without having written anything. That is a much scarier place to be! Start, and as Stephen King promises, it will get better.


Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

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