Essay Season is Here!

Word of Wisdom from Recent CBM Seniors

With essay season upon us, we asked our recent College Bound Mentor graduating classes what guidance they would give future applicants about the college essay writing process. Here are some of their incredibly insightful responses:
"The best piece of advice I can give is to be okay with starting over. I spent a lot of time working on a personal statement draft in the spring of my junior year. It wasn’t until the fall of my senior year that I fully accepted my draft didn’t truly reflect me and my writing style. So, frustratedly, I went back to the drawing board. And thought. A lot. My final product is, at least I think, much better and more reflective of me, and I’m really proud of my work."

--UPenn Student
"Keep writing. It's totally normal –– and probably even beneficial –– to struggle through multiple drafts of your personal statement. I had a hard time with this myself! Don't let the lengthy process intimidate you. Also, stay true to yourself and work with a narrative that brings your personality to life. The topic itself does not matter as long as we hear your voice and get to know you."

"Regarding the "Why [College]" essay: Do some good research on the school and mention professors/departments/programs/etc that interest you. But here's the key: emphasize your connection with the school's social and intellectual energy. Show that it is a place you imagine yourself thriving and feeling energized –– not put to sleep –– by day-to-day life on campus (in classes but also while participating in extracurricular activities and other events). Show yourself connecting with people there, too."

--University of Chicago Student
Have a stream-of-consciousness conversation with a friend or counselor about the things you are passionate about. Bring up ideas you’ve had for essays and interests you have for college. Then, channel the passion and heart of that conversation into your essays. Also, there are absolutely no expectations for your first draft. It is going to be messy, disjointed, nonsensical, unorganized, and all over the place. Let yourself be okay with that. Once you accept that it doesn’t have to be good, you’ll actually be pleasantly surprised by your first product."

--Princeton Student
"When thinking of writing topics, don’t shy away from little moments. Focus on a small experience and then expand on how it has transformed you--it’s much easier than trying to fit your entire life story in a few hundred words. Also, It’s okay if your writing is clunky or messy because getting words down on a page is the hardest part: going back and making it pretty is easy. Lastly, writing an introduction can be difficult. Start in the middle: it’s hard to introduce an essay that doesn’t exist yet."

--UC Davis Student
"Write your regular decision essays before you hear about ED! This will help with stress and motivation because the timeline moves so quickly after you hear about ED."

"The essays WILL get done. Sometimes it feels like there’s too much to do in so little time, but it’s important to remember that you will finish. Also, it’s vital to set deadlines for yourself." 

"Remember to take care of yourself and celebrate even the “small” wins."

--Bowdoin Student
"Start your essays early! I was done with my personal statement by the end of July, and it was the greatest feeling in the world knowing I had just knocked out a chunk of the essay-writing process before the summer had even come to a close. I then went on to write my supplements, and I had done enough of them that by the time school started up again, I was able to very easily balance schoolwork and essay writing...No matter how good or bad, how fast or slow you are at writing essays, starting them as soon as possible will make your life so much easier.

Additionally, before I started the college essay writing process, I wish I had known that it’s okay to be creative and think outside the box. Especially with the personal statement, I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s supposed to look like. For some reason, people think that you need to talk about a serious problem in your life, such as a personal trauma you overcame and what it taught you. If you have an experience that fits this, and it really did impact you, then, by all means, write about it. However, when I was writing my personal statement, I kept wanting to turn my normal, everyday experiences into something traumatic and impactful. But as I went through the writing process, writing both my personal statement and the supplements, I found that the essays that were the easiest to write and that were the most interesting were the ones about those everyday experiences, without the fluff or exaggeration. I wrote an essay about my friendship with someone from another country, and our friendship was certainly not traumatic. Once I realized I didn’t have to write only about a serious personal problem in my life, the essay writing process became easier, more efficient, and maybe even a little fun.

Lastly, please, please don’t compare yourself to your peers! Once schools start going back to completely in-person in the fall, it’s going to be really hard to stay in your own lane and ignore what your classmates are saying about the application process. Don’t worry if people are boasting about being completely done with all of their applications or that they are applying to twenty different schools. Trust yourself and your decisions and your timeline."

--Vanderbilt Student
What's on Our Minds
Essay Advice from Admissions Deans and Directors 

The essay is your opportunity to tell colleges something about yourself that they might not learn from the rest of your application. It should be well-written, tell a story, and reveal something meaningful about you. Joseph “JT” Duck, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Tufts University, said he reads essays to answer these four questions about applicants:
  • What motivates the student?
  • What is the student thinking about?
  • How does the student play with others?
  • How does the student solve a problem?
Rick Clark, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech, also shared some insightful information about applying our understanding of the word “better” to the college application process--and more specifically, to the essay. He said, "We are looking for students who will be deeply missed when they graduate from high school. We are looking for students who are unmistakably and unabashedly committed to better." Read more about this in his blog post. He also created a great resource called "College Essay Greatest Hits."
Many students find this process to be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Read below for some helpful essay-writing tips and strategies to get you started. If you take your time and are thoughtful about the process, you may just find that you enjoy writing your essays!

Emory University provides some examples of essays they loved and why here. Also, Johns Hopkins offers a sampling of “Essays That Worked” for each incoming class.

Additionally, College Bound Mentor now offers a new essay plan. The FOCUSED APPLICATION MENTOR PACKAGE is for students who want the primary focus to be on the essays and want to manage the rest of the process on their own. We have essay specialists available to work with you!

Inspiration for Writing
As you prepare to write your personal statements and other essays, keep in mind you can find inspiration anywhere!

ChatGPT and The College Essay
As tempting as it might be to use ChatGPT to write a college essay, we don’t recommend it. We continue to play with and read about this new technology and always come to the same conclusion: it cannot produce writing that is nuanced, deeply personal, and self-reflective. It’s like having a robot dad write your essay; there is no soul to your writing.

Colleges have not yet figured out how they will address it, and you don’t want to be the person whose essay gets flagged. Here are some articles that go into more depth on this topic:

Why College, Why Academic Interest Essay? 
Many admissions professionals say that they read the "Why School?" essay first. They want to see if you as an applicant truly know why you want to attend the school other than its excellent reputation, outstanding location, or world-renowned faculty. So how do you do this?

What We're Reading This Month
Summer is a great time to immerse yourself in a great book. Below are some of our favorites reads!
What's Next

Rising Seniors: 
Good luck as you work on your essays and applications. Remember we are here to help you.

Rising Juniors: 
Take a deep breath and get ready for a challenging but hopefully exciting year. We are available to help you develop your summer plans, college list, and plans for the coming year.

Rising Sophomores and Freshmen: 
Enjoy the rest of summer and the beginning of a new school year. We are ready to help you find your unique angle for success.

You bring your friends, we provide the info. If anyone is interested in setting up a free interactive workshop on how to maximize students’ high school years leading up to college, please reach out to