GET STARTED NOW.
The best essays grow slowly, as your memory and creativity coax better words onto the page each time you sit down to work. For this reason, I encourage you to start work on your essays as soon as possible, even if you have just tiny pockets of time. Also, please be patient with yourself and the process.
You'll notice that the steps below focus on getting organized and developing ideas.
The word "draft" doesn't appear until the end of this page.
Getting organized, in this context, means finding out the dimensions of your work load. Once you know that, you'll be less stressed.
By investing the time now to develop great ideas, you'll save lots of time and frustration later, when you realize your ideas are misfires.
ROUND UP YOUR ESSAYS.
Collect all your essay questions and prompts in one place. Include the maximum word count and deadlines. If you're offered a choice of essays, don't pick one yet. (For Common App schools, be sure to check under Questions in the left margin of each college's page in the "My Colleges" tab.)
SCAN THE QUESTIONS AND PROMPTS.
Are some questions sounding the same? Essaymom bets big money that colleges poach questions from each other because so many are practically identical. Similar questions allows you to re-use essays with just some minor editing. By reducing the number of essays you're writing, you'll have the time and energy to write better essays.
Jot down a couple stories that relate to each question. Whatever pops into your head when you read the question is fine. A few words are all that's necessary at this point. (e.g. "Lifeguarding July 4th") If you're stumped, please look at Where Your Ideas are Hiding.
TEST EACH STORY.
Does it answer the prompt?
Does it send the Key Messages?
Can you recall lots of vivid detail that will bring it to life?
Is it central to who you are? Is it important to you?
Still not sure which of your ideas are workable? Check out these successful ideas.
CREATE A STORY FILE.
For each story that got four yes answers above, you're going to create a story file. This is where you will spill the entire story and as many details as you can remember, without regard for grammar, spelling or thesis statements. You're just telling the story to your keyboard or notebook.
Give yourself time for this. This is your raw material, so more is way better than less.
When you think you've got down everything, get up and walk away. Feel good that you've accomplished this big step. Come back 24 hours later and see if you can remember anything more.
PICK THE WINNERS.
Your best ideas are the stories that fill up your file with the least strain. The energy propelling the story to the surface of your thoughts signals that the subject is important to you, and that's what admissions officers want to see in your essay.
If there is no clear front-runner, test your ideas on someone who isn't compelled to make you feel good. Notice which idea inspires them to ask questions. Ask them which story they would like to hear more about.
Once you've chosen your idea, add more to your file. This is the raw material you'll draw from when you organize your first draft.