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Overcoming Writers Block

Q: So many of my friends have started their college essays, but I seem to have a block and don’t know where to begin. Help!

A: Ah — the elusive college essay. It can cause even the most confident student to feel doubt.


The intent of the essay is not to induce undue stress or test your inner Twain. It is an opportunity for you to tell colleges more about the thing you know most about — you! This is the place where you can talk about what makes you unique, what your passions are, and what you hope to accomplish. If you start early (and it is still early) and really put thought into these pieces of the application, you can truly make your applications stand out.


Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. The essay is about you and the content and voice should reflect a 17-year-old. Don’t try to pull in complex “SAT” words or pull up Thesaurus.com to improve the essay in a way that does not show you natural writing style. The voice you hear when you write is the voice the admissions officer should hear when they read your essay.


2. The essay is an opportunity to give more depth about specific activities and experiences. Go beyond the obvious of what was done and include what you gained from the experiences.


3. Remember that the essay is not a letter of recommendation for someone else. While it is easy to write about others more easily than writing about yourself, the essay needs to focus on what you have learned or experienced.


4. If you are uncomfortable sharing your writing with someone you trust (not necessarily just your parents), think about how comfortable you are having an admission officer read it. Talk to someone if you are unsure about the appropriateness of your topic.


5. Don’t write an essay that someone successfully wrote a previous year. An idea can be unique only once.


6. Have fun writing the essay — yes, fun! Colleges want real people on campus, and the essay should reveal your whole persona, not just your academic one.


7. The essay should complement the application. Remember that the essay is just one element of the application and must mesh well with the other pieces.


8. Make sure the essay flows well and scrub out grammar mistakes. Writing that is filled with errors is hard to read and takes away from the message you are trying to convey.


9. Do not share your essay with friends no matter how tempting it might be. Even the most well-intentioned person can pull ideas and style unconsciously. But do share your essays with a couple of people that objectively know you well and can tell you if your essay reflects you.


Start by brainstorming ideas and thinking about what you want to tell a college that is not already relevant elsewhere in the application. Starting early will allow you to experiment with different topics and find just the right words to share something important.


It is important to take pen to paper now. What eventually comes out will hopefully be a deeper insight into you — the very thing that admissions officers seek when they sit down to read the much-agonized-over personal statement.

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