In many ways, the most important conversation a school has with you comes in the form of your essay.

Sure, SAT® and ACT® exams and transcripts provide an outline of your credentials, but it’s the essay that colors the application with your hopes, dreams, and strengths. Think of it as your pitch: you’re striving to explain what makes you an exceptional applicant with focus, clarity, and candor.

Sarah Ramsey, a high school English teacher, shares tips to getting started on your college essays.

Tip 1: View the essay as an opportunity

Writing a college essay can be an intimidating process. It can be very difficult to write about yourself. But think of this as an opportunity to talk to the admissions board and share something with them about your personality that’s not listed elsewhere on the application.

Tip 2: Get creative

In high school, you are used to writing about novels, poetry, or doing more analytical writing, but this is a different type of essay. This is a narrative essay where you are encouraged to use first-person pronouns (I and me). The language you can use should reflect who you are as a person.

Think of your essay as a short story.

Tip 3: Give yourself enough time

  • Brainstorm over the summer.
  • Write rough draft in September.
  • Revise and finalize by October.

You should start thinking about your college essay during the spring of your junior year or during the summer between your junior and senior year of high school. Write your first draft by September and start the revision process shortly after so you have a finished essay by October. That way, if you decide to apply early to a particular college, you will be ready.

Tip 4: If given the choice, always take the opportunity to write an essay.

Many colleges require the college essay, but some don’t. If you are given the opportunity to write about yourself and share your personal experiences to show your personality, you should always take advantage of it.

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