Lots of college-bound students make two critical mistakes when it comes time to think through and write applications to college: they do it too soon, or they do it too late.
Too soon? Is there really such a thing? Yes, there is. Emphatically so. Many high schools, both public and private, do their juniors a disservice when they get them stressed out about writing college applications during the spring of junior year. It’s one thing to go through the personal essay prompts and even write a MOCK essay for the purpose of exercise (and, course, to get a good grade if it counts toward an English class grade), but to think you can write your best college essay in the middle of the busiest academic semester of your high school career is, frankly, a little nuts. Young adults, just like not-so-young adults, need down time to reflect calmly and deeply about where they’ve been and where they’re going next. Spring semester junior year is anything but calm. Well-intentioned as they might be, teachers who assign a draft of the main college application essay in March, April, May, or June of a student’s junior year often do more harm than good on several levels:
- Given that students have all summer and early fall (the EARLIEST deadlines are Nov. 1 and Nov. 15, and most applications are submitted in December and January), a junior’s time is much better spent focusing on LEARNING subject matter, getting the best grades they can, studying for and taking standardized tests, and participating in sports, activities, jobs, and community service. These pursuits transalte to stronger applications.
- Many juniors will NOT have had their ah-ha moment or defining experience that is the stuff of outstanding application essays. Heck, it’s a full six months or more before applications are due, and students are not the people as a second-semester juniors as they are as rising or early fall-semester seniors. A LOT of growth, maturity, and life experiences happen in the magical summer between junior and senior years. I see such growth year after year from the vast majority of students who come through CPE.
- The best college essays come out of calm, cool, collected thinking and a focused period of time-on-task. When are you most likely to be calm, cool, and collected and have the time to spend in serious reflection? Duh: summertime. Even if you have mad summer plans, you can find the time to sit quietly and get the necessary work done. Be honest with yourself.
Obviously, you can wait too long, as well. The week (sometimes night) before applications are due is NOT a good time to sit down at the computer and navigate to CommonApp.org. Even super brainiacs who know exactly what they want to communicate, have their mental ducks all in a row, and even have some semblance of a rough draft of their essays can’t afford to wait till the 11th hour. I can tell of far too many stories where the CommonApp doesn’t play nicely–i.e., freezes, crashes, and otherwise gives cause for rivers of tears, which regrettably I’ve seen, too–and last minute work is gone—whoosh—becoming ones and zeros in the vast ether of cyberspace. You don’t want to join their ranks, trust me. Plus, your parents will be all over you with nagging (and potentially significantly worse). Looking at it from a positive perspective, consider for a minute how much different you’d feel going into the fall of senior year knowing your applications were done… Now you can focus on getting great grades, playing leadership roles in sports and activities and community service, and–oh, yeah–enjoying being a SENIOR! Woot woot.
Taking a page out of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” I want to suggest writing essays and apps in the spring of junior year is too soon; in the fall of senior year, it’s too late. July and August–the SWEET SPOT–are just right. And judging purely from results–i.e., setting aside how painless we make it and how many laughs we have along the way–CPE’s CommonApp Boot Camps are the way to go. 100% of past participants over the last four years have gotten into at least one of their top three schools. In five 3-hour sessions (Mon-Fri, either 9-12 or 1-4) in West Hartford or ONLINE, we take students through the CommonApp from soup to nuts: we register an account on Monday, and then complete all the forms, Activity list, personal Essay, and as many Supplement Questions as time allows. By Friday, the entire CommonApp is ready to ship*, except perhaps for a supplement essay or two. That leaves months for tweaking and otherwise perfecting. It’s a good plan.
CommonApp Boot Camps run weekly in the sweet spot, July and August. Register for one today and take a huge load off your shoulders. 🙂 And if you’d like to earn some quick summer cash, make $50 for every friend you refer, whether or not you yourself participate (but we sure hope you will!). Good luck — we’re here to help.