When to Start on Your College Essays? Now!

Jennifer Liepin
Jennifer Liepin

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The beginning of your summer, your rising senior year, is the perfect time to start planning your first college essay. Your mind is no longer full of the memorized facts, equations, and extracurricular scheduling of the school year. You also are likely to have more time to dedicate the process of brainstorming, writing, and editing that are necessary to write a thoughtfully organized and meaningful essay. Start on your college essays sooner rather than later.

Do not sell yourself short in waiting to write this all-important piece that will be a deciding factor as to whether or not you are accepted to the school of your dream; start now!

Here’s how to approach writing your college essays over summer.

Don’t let writer’s block hold you back from your perfect essay.


Step 1: Set Up Your Schedule for the Summer.

At Empowerly we recommend that rising seniors attempt to write their Common App essays (and, if applying, their University of California essays) over the summer. These two sets of essays are time-consuming, and as each set is submitted to multiple schools, they are also some of the most important writing pieces you will create in the whole of your academic career thus far. Additionally, these prompts don’t tend to change much from year to year, so you don’t risk writing an essay that will then not be accepted.

We recommend that students work with a college admissions consultant—maybe… Empowerly! Schedule a free consultation to learn how we can help you write your best set of essays and make the most of your summer!

Take a week after school ends to relax and reset. Then get ready to approach your essay with a fresh mind and the optimistic point of view that writing your college essay can be quite enjoyable, and dare I say… fun?

No, really. Writing your essay can be quite fulfilling, and if you give yourself enough time to write it, it can also be a stress-free process! We will discuss the Common App essay next to demonstrate how to get started; however, you can repeat these steps with your University of California essays as well. As the Common App is likely the most important essay you will submit, we think it’s best to set yourself up with enough time to write multiple versions before submitting it.

Step 2: Read Well-Written Common App Essays.

Before you venture forward in writing your own essay, take time to read the examples of those who have already successfully walked this path ahead of you. Not only is it fun to discover the topics that past students have successfully covered, but you will also discover the vast variety of approaches that you can take to writing your essay. Here are three sets of essays that we recommend that you check out!

Some students write humorously about a single incident or topic.

For example, this Johns Hopkins University student wrote a delightful account exclusively about potatoes:

“Creamy mashed-potatoes come first to mind, with their fluffy hills of whipped-bliss gracing one’s tongue so delicately. The thought of golden tater-tots follows; deep-fried potatoes cooked perfectly so as to create a slow crunch when chewed. Then are characteristic french-fries—shoestring or steak, skin on or off. Baked-potatoes, latkes, hash-browns, gnocchi—all respectable meals. And one mustn’t forget potato-chips when searching for a light snack.

Oh potatoes, how I love you. And when asked what to eat exclusively for the rest of my life, I will enthusiastically respond “potatoes!”, for by picking one, I choose an abundance….”

Others write introspectively about a pivotal event in their lives or a series of choices that they have made over the course of years.

For example, this essay about climbing conveys the struggle of the moment:

“There I was, hanging from the precipice, muscles trembling, fingers aching, sweat dripping onto my spotter twenty feet below. He could see I was struggling, and shouted words of encouragement, but my head was pounding too loudly to make out the words. During the initial ascent, I felt strong and confident, though the intense scope of the route had begun to loosen my physical grip, as well as my grip on reality.”

You will come to see that there is no correct way to answer the Common App essay prompts as each of these students’ essays is evocative and informative.

Step 3: Evaluate Your Goals in Writing This Essay.

Your goal is to write an essay that causes the reader to experience the emotions that you are looking to convey in your piece—while telling a coherent and focused story that highlights what makes you unique! Therefore, you want to think of what words you can use to tell a vivid story that will resonate with your reader. You can choose to focus on one aspect of yourself, perhaps your determination or entrepreneurial spirit, or you can highlight multiple aspects of your personality. Regardless, at the heart of your story, your essay needs to focus on you, and not anyone or anything else.

Also, keep in mind the following key principles college admissions officers are considering in reviewing your essay:

  • Can this person write well?
  • Who is this person?
  • Will this person contribute something of value to our campus?

Step 4: Choose Two of the Common App Essay Prompts for Which to Brainstorm Ideas.

Choosing two prompts with which to brainstorm ideas, will allow you the chance to explore multiple essay topics without feeling overwhelmed. Read through all the prompts and choose the two that are the most immediately compelling. Then take some time to develop your ideas for both prompts. You can sketch out your ideas while either sitting at your desk on your computer or outdoors on a notepad. Try different settings to see which spurs your creativity.

Step 5: Discuss Your Ideas with Others.

The final step to take before writing your essay involves discussing your ideas with others. I always recommend that my students run their ideas by their family and friends because I have many times witnessed this discussion leading to an even better subject than the student had originally developed. Some students worry that doing so might lead to them acquiescing to a parent’s idea, despite wanting to write about something else. However, this is your essay and you will choose what you write about.

Your family and friends know you best, and even as an Admissions Consultant who can deftly steer my students in the direction of the essay with the greatest potential, I can only go so far in suggesting ideas to my students. I have missed a wide swatch of my students’ lives and often family members can bring up memories or add important details to a story that would otherwise have been missed.

Step 6: Let the Writing Begin!

Yes. Once you have made it through this all-important list of steps, you are ready to begin writing your essay.

Check out some of our other blogs on writing your Common App:


If you’re overwhelmed with planning your summer, reach out for help.

Need help with navigating your journey? Empowerly can help in so many ways. Book a consult to learn more about our program and how we can help you reach for your dreams.

Questions? Let us know!