Don't Start Writing Your College Personal Statement Just Yet

We know you're getting plenty of advice to the contrary. Here's why you should wait.
July 17, 2017

Now that the summer is well under way, you might be hearing or reading advice from a whole lot of sources telling you to start working on your college application essays.

We're going to tell you not to start... yet. In fact, you're better off starting your college application essay in late August or in September.

Here's why you should hold off:

1. The best material for your main college application essay (aka personal statement) might end up being about your experiences this summer, and those experiences are still a work in progress. We hope your summer is formative in some way, and that it will yield some good essay topics. You might end up writing about less recent experiences, but you're not in a position to make that decision yet.

2. It's possible you'll have more application essays to write besides the main personal statement, and waiting until August/September means you can be more strategic and save yourself a lot of time. Starting in late August, you'll be able to see where the overlap is among the essays for your colleges. You can mix and match essay topics in a way that means you won't have to write a brand new essay for every college, but you can't do that analysis this early in the summer.

We're not letting you completely off the hook during the summer, because there are some things you can and should start working now. Those to-do items will be a better use of your time than starting to write an application essay on a topic that you might even end up using.

Here's what you can get started on now:

1. ZeeMee: More and more college applications are inviting you include links to your online profile on ZeeMee. You'll want to curate your ZeeMee profile and think carefully about what you want to start parking there for admissions officers to see when you submit your applications. Make sure to make your ZeeMee profile private (the default setting is public).

2. Resume: Many colleges invite you to attach a resume to your applications. You can get started on that (keep it to one page!), just leave some space to fill in later for your current job, internship, coursework, travel, or other experiences that are still in process.

3. Why College X essays: Now's the time to start finalizing your college list, and that means you can start writing "Why College X" essays for each one. Not every college will require that essay for its application, but you should write one for each college on your list, even if you don't end up submitting each one. At a minimum you'll have to be able to articulate "Why College X" in other contexts, for example in admissions interviews. Writing out your "Why College X" motivations will also help you think about where you might want to apply binding Early Decision or Restrictive Early Action when the new applications roll out.

4. Daily journal: You can start keeping a daily journal as early as 9th grade where you write down three things that happened each day that were important to you. By the time you're ready to work on your college applications, you'll have plenty of experiences and insights to mine for good material, because you will have documented them. You won't be posting this content anywhere; it's just a way to archive them for future use. We're fans of an app called Day 1 for these purposes. Whatever works for you!

Inline has lots of advice, worksheets, and templates for you to use as you tackle these to-dos, including the personal statement (once you get there!).

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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