For high school seniors, this time of year marks the end of everyone’s favorite part of high school: the college application process. For high school juniors, it marks only the beginning. Don’t worry, juniors. This experience will be as easy as sorting through information on thousands of Free College Consulting and universities; touring campuses that blur together into one mass of stone and ivy; interviewing with alumni and admissions officers; crafting a life-affirming, word-perfect personal statement; prepping for, practicing for, and taking a battery of standardized tests including the SAT, ACT, SAT Subjects, and AP exams; asking your teachers for a life-affirming, word-perfect recommendation; filling out the Common Application along with potentially dozens of supplemental components, financial aid documents, and interest forms; and finally finding that oh-so-perfect, star-crossed lovers’ match of a college that will determine the rest of your life.
So… you have that to look forward to.
Actually, the entire process is not nearly as daunting as it seems. Most of the college application season is actually kind of fun. But every journey begins with a single step, so what’s yours? You can certainly begin by creating a large list of colleges that interest you, but if you really want to sink your teeth into the process, start writing drafts of your college application personal statement. To paraphrase an ivy league university dean of admissions: If I told you that you would get one chance to make a basketball free throw—and if you made it, you would be admitted into your school of choice—would you just show up and take your shot, or would you take practice shots for the entire year leading up to it?
Perhaps he overstated the importance of the personal statement, but not by much.
Succinctly, your personal statement should be a concise, vivid, and specific window into your world-view and what makes you unique. GPA and SAT scores are just numbers on a page, but the personal statement is the best way to separate yourself from the torrent of applications that schools receive each year. You want admissions officers to finish reading your essay and feel like they know you. It’s hard to reject someone you know. So head over to CommonApp.org and look at the essay prompts. Let them inspire you, not constrain you, because you can write about (almost) anything. In 700 words, write a clean essay that has a point. Then edit, edit, edit until only the 500 most efficient words remain.