5 Simple Tips to Help Juniors Prep for the College Essay

You probably already know that at its core, the college application essay is all about reflection. We tell our students time and again it’s as much a thinking task as a writing task.

While we have many tools to help you guide your college-bound junior class on the essay, this time of year we focus on ways to prep students now so they are more prepared to write any application essay by this spring.

You can help your students make the journey to college a little bit easier by encouraging them to keep an informal journal.

Here are our top 5 tips for you to share with your juniors (and sophomores and freshmen!) for keeping a journal to generate ideas for the college essay:

  • Ask yourself, “What do colleges know about me?” After that, ask, “What else do I want them to know? Why?” Think traits and characteristics, rather than experiences. (Are you serious? Industrious? Resourceful? Creative? Shy? Funny? Hardworking? Analytical?) Write the answers down in the first page of your journal.
  • Once you know what you want readers to learn about you, start thinking about stories or experiences that illustrate those characteristics. You’ll write about them in this journal as often as you want, with as many details as you need to remember the experiences you choose to include in your journal.
  • Think of your journal entries as though they were quick snapshots from your cell phone – something you might post on Facebook or a photo-sharing website. Their purpose is to jog your memory and remind you of an experience, not to capture it in spectacular detail.
  • If you try to record everything that happens on your trip to the Grand Canyon or every life-changing insight from your summer job as a swim teacher, you’ll give up after a day or two. On the other hand, if you jot down, “Sunset with Brian and Sarah. The sky looked like it was painted in watercolor,” you will remember that evening forever.
  • If you scribble, “Ava finally put her head in the water! I threw the red plastic ring to the bottom of the pool, and she went straight down for it,” you’ll also remember the way the sun hit the diving board and the lady in the lounge chair who sat by the pool all summer with iced tea and a trashy novel.

As professional writers, this is the type of journaling we do, too. Sure, we sometimes write pages and pages, but we also collect scraps of experiences and moments.

Journaling will help your students find insight from life experiences so they can write more effective application essays. Please share these tips with your parents, too.

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communications and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim, a former journalist, has made it her mission to know EVERYTHING about college admissions, and the essay’s role within it. She speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges almost every day. Wow works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants who want to improve their essay-coaching skills. Wow also offers professional communication and writing services to businesses and nonprofits. Please join Wow’s high school counselor groups on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7011206 and Facebook.