Although months away, the deadlines for college applications are creeping up on rising seniors.
Due from November to January, most applications require essays and recommendations, along with a list of activities and accomplishments over their first three years of high school.
With so much to cover, summer is the only uninterrupted time many students may have to work on their applications. It allows students time to ponder how they want to present themselves to college admissions officers.
“Over the summer, my essay counselor and I made a spreadsheet with all of the schools I’m applying to, the essays, and, I think, on average, I revised each one around three times,” said Miranda Li, a Los Altos High School graduate and incoming freshman at Stanford University. “I would say if you’re going to start your essays early, make sure you’re doing it to the correct prompts and, if anything, some things you can for sure start are your common app essays.”
Writing the essay
Li started her application in May of her junior year by making a list of colleges she was interested in applying to, then transitioned to the essay portion of the application that summer. Most schools require one Common App or Coalition App essay, commonly known as the “personal statement,” along with supplements for each individual school released annually by Aug. 1, the day the Common App is opened for submissions. For UCs, four essays are required out of eight prompts to submit through the UC admissions portal.
“What I found shocking was that sometimes an experience you had that you thought was amazing does not always come across as a great way to present yourself,” said Tanya Matthew, a Los Altos High grad and rising freshman at UC Berkeley. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I love that so much. How could it not be a good representation of me?’ And what I realized is that sometimes some of your experiences, when you get around to writing them, they begin to become centered around other people instead of yourself.”
By starting in the summer, Matthew said she had more time to work on her essays and find the most important stories to share with admissions officers.
“The best advice someone gave me is, ‘You have this one application to tell (admissions officers) about yourself, so don’t write about the same thing twice, ever,’” she said. “And I think that helped me because I need to be broad enough that (I can share the) many different parts of me.”
Ana Homayoun, founder of Los Altos-based Green Ivy Educational Consulting, added, “A lot of the things we do in our office are all about helping students understand their own story and figure out a way to present it that is comprehensive and yet really meaningful. Each student is unique, and a lot of times, by the time you get to senior year, you think you’re just like everyone else – you don’t necessarily fully realize your uniqueness.”
Originally from Los Altos, Homayoun recognizes this area can be a high-pressure environment for many students. Because all of her students start their applications in the summer, she said they are less stressed throughout the process. Homayoun noted that her firm, or any supportive adult, can help relieve a student’s application-related stress.
Ultimately, the college admissions process leads to a final decision, and free time during the summer devoted to working on college applications can help prepare seniors for their fall deadlines and, more importantly, be as satisfied with their work as possible.
“Resentment is not worth it,” Li said. “There are factors much beyond your control that will influence whether you get into the schools that you want to, and at the end of the day – again, really freaking cheesy – everybody is satisfied with where they go.”
Matthew added: “Relax, because I know it’s a lot and it’s stressful, but at the end of the day, you’re going to end up somewhere that is great for you.”