Your Summer Admissions Essay Checklist

With its humid days and languid nights, it's tempting to blow your summer away at the pool or in front of the TV. You've been working SO HARD all year keeping your grades up, studying up for the SATs, and applying to impressive internships. Don't you deserve a break? Yes, take the first few weeks to veg out. But now's the time to start working again. Think about it this way: the more you can get done over the summer, the less stressed you'll be first semester senior year, which is quantifiably THE WORST. Here's my summer to do list, no matter what grade you're in.

1) Start a Journal
The hardest thing about a personal essay is finding your voice—most high schools focus on the academic essay, which is more stiff and formulaic than the admissions essay. An easy way to discover what you sound like when you're not citing academic sources or analyzing text is to start a journal. Every night before bed, take a few minutes to write about your day or what's worrying you or even try some of the prompts in the Common App. The relaxing background should let you tap into your personal voice without the pressure of sounding academic. At the very least, you'll have some snippets saved away for the draft writing stage.

2) Log In to the Common App
Make your account now, so that you get comfortable with the Common App interface and know all the supplemental questions you'll have to finish by November if you're applying early decision or January if you're applying regular decision. Add all your prospective colleges to the list so you're familiar with all the non-essay questions as well, since those should be as pristine as the rest of your application. Luckily, the main Common App essay questions are already live so you can waste no time.

3) Write Your Activities Resume
Which brings us to the activities resume. Work with your guidance counselors and get a head start on this to make sure every detail is correct. It may be tedious, but it's an important part of your application. Make sure  to include any leadership positions, number of years per activity, and how many hours per week you spend on each one. Resist the urge to pad your resume with a long list of extracurriculars you dabbled in: admissions officers want to see commitment (and ideally) advancement.

4) Draft Your Essays
Now that you have a good sense of how to work with the common app and know your activity history and have gotten used to writing about yourself in your journal, it's time to write your first draft. Before you panic, remember that first drafts are totally no pressure. Keep this mantra in mind whenever you get stuck: Write now. Revise later. If you're not sure what your topic should be, start here for some ideas, then try this and this if you're still stumped. Happy writing!