College Application Essays: Overcoming the Dreaded Blank Screen

Pretty young student sitting at desk and doing her homework, she is connecting to the internet with a laptop

Perhaps you have already finished the often harrowing process of writing your college application essays. If so, congratulations.

If, however, you are facing looming college application deadlines and are still staring at a blank screen, this post is for you.

Writing a truly excellent college application essay is hard – but it’s supposed to be hard. The point of the personal statement is to force you to reflect on yourself and your experiences and to communicate some aspect of who you are in a compelling and skillful way. This isn’t something that can be done in an hour or two of feverish typing; this is something that requires deep thought and careful writing.

But although creating a good application essay is hard, it definitely isn’t impossible. Here are some of our best tips for college application essays:

1. Look for inspiration in other people’s essays.
Reading successful college essays can help you in coming up with strong topics, incorporating effective stylistic elements, and crafting a strong opening and closing. Check out these past successful essays from C2 Education, Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University, and MIT.

2. Take the time to pick ONE really good topic.
A lot of students overdo it in their essays, creating franken-essays that try to combine too many disparate stories. Your essay should tell one cohesive story; it should never read like a list of your accomplishments or try to shoehorn two relatively unrelated stories together.

3. Make sure you address the prompt.
Maybe you’ve already written an essay that you like, but it was for a different essay prompt. Maybe you have a topic you really like, but it doesn’t quite suit the prompt you’re given. Unfortunately, your best bet is to come up with a whole new topic. Don’t try to force an essay to fit a prompt when the relationship just isn’t right.

4. Pick the best Common App prompt for you.
If you’re using the Common App, you’ll have five prompts to choose from. It might seem like a good idea to pick a prompt first and then to pick a topic. Instead, list some ideas for topics for each of the five prompts. Try to come up with at least two possible topics for each prompt. After you’ve made your list, you can evaluate the possible topics to pick the one that you think best reflects an important aspect of your personality for experiences.

5. Make a plan and start writing.
That seems so simple in principle, but it’s tough in practice. Once you’ve picked a good topic, plan your story – and, make no mistake, your essay should tell a story. Like any good story, you’ll need a beginning, a middle, and an end. Once you have your plan, just start writing. Don’t stress about getting your wording just right; don’t worry about perfecting each sentence; don’t worry about anything at all. Just write. It’s the best way to get that blinking cursor to stop mocking you.

6. Revise, revise, revise.
Perhaps the most important step in creating a really strong essay is to revise the essay repeatedly. This is where you perfect your wording, eliminate any and all grammar errors, ensure that you’ve maintained a consistent and appropriate style, and punch up your opening and closing to create impact. This is also the step where seeking outside help can make the biggest difference. For example, many C2 Education students bring their essays to their C2 tutors for help revising their essays. After all, our tutors have all been through the college application essay ringer. Contact your local C2 Education center today for help with your college application essays.