7 Tips For Surviving College Essay Season

Tip #1: Project Manage Yourself.

The surest way to get stuff done is to schedule it in your calendar. If it’s not scheduled in the calendar, it ain’t gonna happen. If you don’t have a google calendar, outlook, or some kind of physical planner, you’re at risk for procrastination and, its unwelcome friends, stress and panic. And calendars are more effective than to do lists.

Pro Tip: Schedule your college essay writing by labeling them as a specific school and prompt. 

Instead of labeling it generally, i.e. “Write Your College Essays!”, label it by specific project, i.e. Columbia Why Us Essay: Write Rough Draft or Stanford Short Answers: Rough Draft. Generalizing your tasks actually requires more energy when you sit down to write it because you’ll have to then decide where to begin writing. Don’t waste your limited amount of daily willpower on deciding what your essential priorities are. Preserve it for your deepest, most meaningful work.

Tip #2: Plan On Sundays & The Night Before

Why? Because planning your day the night before drastically increases your productivity. And “Decision Fatigue” is a real thing. So, you want to cut down on how many decisions you need to make during the week, especially if you have a big project like college applications to complete. The brain power required to make one extra decision is scientifically proven to limit your ability to get it done. An unnecessary obstacle imho

Pro Tip: Plan out each day the night before by specific project and task.

Your creative and academic dreams require fuel. And doing your best work in this world means not blowing your daily supply of mental and emotional discernment on low-ticket items. By following through on this you can give yourself an immediate boost in clarity, creativity and overall energy.

Tip #3: Start Early & Set Early Deadlines

Set firm, early deadlines for those helping you apply. The sooner they are complete, it’s one less decision you need to make and one less aspect of the application you have to worry about. Waiting until the last minute is risky. 

Pro Tip 1: Ask those who are writing your letters of recommendation to have them finished several weeks before they’re due. 

Pro Tip 2: Help your teachers get to know YOU better, click here. Make your own copy of the document, fill it out and either email it to them OR print it and deliver in person.

Pro Tip 3: Introduce yourself to your school counselor before October! Make sure they know who you are. 

Really. Every year during the third week of October, with the early decision deadlines looming, students flock to their counselors’ offices looking for advice. It is not easy for counselors to help you in a meaningful way if they don’t know you.

Tip #4: Repurpose Your Essays

Try to reuse what you write for different applications. Consider what topics you’re going to write about and strategize where those topics overlap with your other schools prompts.

Pro Tip: Use this free Essay Tracker & Topic Strategy Doc to organize your essay topics in a master list! It’ll save you lots of time. Make sure to click “File > Make a copy…” in order to create an editable version you can use. 

Adapt your recycled essays as needed. Maybe it’s a few sentences, but it’s usually enough to simply add another paragraph towards the end of your essay that addresses the new prompt directly or incorporates a “Mini Why Us”, or customizations based on what school you’re applying to. Do not forget to answer the prompt if you decide to reuse essays. 

Tip #5: Read LOTS of Sample Essays!

Reading other students’ essays will give you a sense of what’s possible. Be careful of where you search for sample essays. I recommend my mentor and colleague, Ethan at The College Essay Guy, for 26 Outstanding College Essay Examples 

Pro Tip: Create your own epic essay outline (before you start writing) by breaking down each sample essay paragraph by paragraph. What are the themes and basic intentions of each paragraph? 

Which outlines resonate with you? See if you can take the basic structure and build your own essay based on it (please make sure to use your own topics, qualities, interests and skills, obviously). 

Tip #6: Prepare & Practice For Your Interviews

About 80% of students are under-prepared for interviews. This is one part of the process that you can control so take advantage of it. Have several high-quality and sincere questions prepared (please do not include questions you’re easily able to research yourself) and practice interviewing with a friend, parent or counselor. 

Pro Tip 1: Identify the 4-7 details, qualities, values, interests and skills you possess that you want them to walk away with. 

Pro Tip 2: Connect those 4-7 details to specific and clear examples from your actual life. How have you demonstrated and manifested those qualities in your life?

If you’re nervous, that’s OK. It’s normal. The way to overcome interview anxiety is to a) be prepared with your 4-7 qualities and b) listen well. Be genuinely curious about what they have to say so you can offer follow up questions for your interviewer.

Tip #7: Utilize The Additional Info Section

If there’s something you need to explain such as a health issue, parent’s divorce, difficulty taking tests, changed schools etc., then the Additional Info Section is the place to share those details. Be sure to be positive and focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve applied what you’ve learned to other areas of your life. Do fill in any gaps and don’t leave it to the admissions reps to wonder why this or that happened. Tell your whole story, honestly, politely and without victimizing yourself or overtly blaming. Simply state the facts. 

Pro Tip: See if you can break down your additional info section “essay”  into bullet points that communicate only the facts and essential details of what admissions needs to know. 

Admissions has so many essays to read. So, if you can, be considerate of them by using bullet points. It’ll also ensure you don’t waste word count on exposition which can give the impression that you’re making excuses for yourself or blaming external circumstances (i.e. one bad semester, test scores, a dropped class, etc.) instead of taking accountability. 

Plus, it sends a message to admissions that you value their time and attention. 


Remember to find ways to chill out and relax throughout this college essay season. Find time to get still, move your body or get into nature. When you’re afraid, anxious and stressed, your cognitive ability decreases and that limits your capacity for inspired thought, intellectual insights and creative flow. 

So, don’t forget to chill, and accept that you can only do your best, but only you can determine what your best is. Use these tips and you’ll do great! 

Which tip can YOU put into action this week? What were your results? Please leave a comment below!

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