Whether you apply to the one college or thirteen (this was my situation, I really wanted to get in), the college application process is a journey to go to college, the next frontier in your life. Shout out to my friend Malik who told me to “Be selfish.” When you write, bring the mindset that you will go where you want to go. Choose where you want to go, leave no options off the table! College was the first time I got to decide something big for myself. Dream big and apply to your dream schools, even if you doubt admission.

College was the first time I got to decide something big for myself. Dream big and apply to your dream schools, even if you doubt admission.

Make three lists of schools: reach, target and safety. Your reach schools are the ones that you feel you’ll need higher SAT or ACT scores for or take a lot of time on. The target schools are the ones you want to go and that you feel likely to get in. The safety schools are ones that you are confident you’ll get in without a problem. These are reserved as a last resort. They aren’t your most preferred schools, but if these schools offer better financial aid packages, then you might consider going to these.

Choose a total number of colleges that seems doable for you. Maybe five colleges in total is your goal. Maybe you want to apply to ten, or three. Whatever your goal, make sure you apply to colleges where you would like to be. Before I forget, I encourage to have your guidance counselor or a teacher you’re close with look over your college list. They can give pointers and even suggest a college you hadn’t considered. This happened to me. I had never heard of my current school, Carnegie Mellon University, until my eldest brother told me about the university in October of my senior year.

Start your application essays early. Most colleges have their applications listed on the Common Application, an online site. The Common Application opens in the summer, usually in June. Start by opening an account on Common Application and make sure the college(s) you’re applying to has an application on the site. Once you locate your college applications, this is the point where you can make a schedule. You have to answer this important question, “How long will you take on each college application?” For some colleges, you need a personal statement/mission, statement of interest as well as typical essay questions. Other colleges require only the personal statement. Be aware of how much writing each college requires and be ready to take more time on some college applications than others.

You’ll need to fit your essay writing schedule with your school schedule when classes resume in the fall. In the summer, you can work on your applications for 3 hours a day. During the school year, maybe you can only work on college applications during the weekend. Or you can work on applications an hour a day. Whatever works for you, do it. In completing your college applications, you must be consistent. A little per week goes a long away. An hour or two per week may not seem like a lot, but come December, you’ll have crafted essays with the attention they deserve.

By writing about a particular challenge you faced, you demonstrate your determination to prevail. You’re writing about yourself and what you’re passionate about; of course, you’re going to need some time to write. As a brilliant high school senior who has a lot of experience and unique talent, there’s just so much about you to write about. As your own biographer, you’ll curate an exhibit about moments of your life you want to express to the admissions officers. You’re the historian; what do you want to say? Rest assured, whatever you put on the page, you’ll wow the admissions officers by your frankness and the realness in your voice. As an admissions officer from Pomona College once me, admissions officers “look for reasons to admit, not to deny, a student.”

How is a good question as well as what. How do I write this essay? Write about yourself. You know yourself better than anyone else. Better than your friends, your relatives, than anyone. Your application should be about how your life experience has shaped you to be the person you are. When I wrote my essays, I worried how my life wasn’t interesting enough. My parents aren’t lawyers or doctors. I don’t have a genius grandfather who took me fishing and told me wise sayings. I felt my life had been too tragic, that I had nothing to write about that was successful; I felt I had failed a lot.

 Those moments brought me pain, but they also revealed an immense courage in me.            

Nonetheless, I acknowledged that my struggles shaped me to be who I am. If I ignored those moments, I would forget my perseverance. Sure, those moments brought me pain, but they also revealed an immense courage in me.

I will make the point here that it’s OK to avoid writing about a challenge because it is too sensitive or personal. Your essay is very personal; only write about moments in your life you’re comfortable talking about. It is your truth, so you get to decide what to talk about and what not to talk about. I validate your experience, from your struggles to your successes and want you to know that I support you all the way. You are incredibly brave for having gone so far and you will go even farther.

You are incredibly brave for having gone so far and you will go even farther.

For comments, feel free to ask any further questions. I will reply with heartfelt words of encouragement as well as respond to your inquiries. Wishing you the best, Class of 2023+ and beyond



CMU Class of 2020 – B.A. Professional Writing