writer | college essay coach


Photo by Zachary Nelson

Photo by Zachary Nelson

“I didn’t survive, I prepared.” ~Nelson Mandela

The College Application Essay Timeline

Ideas to prepare for the college admission process.

Freshman Year

Keep a journal. Write stuff that includes descriptions of teachers, friends, family members, what you love to do, what you hate to do, what you long to do but are afraid, places you visit, meaningful films, music, poetry, successes and failures, hopes and dreams, overheard dialogue. Don’t think about applying to college, think about expanding your life beyond your family and friends. Read the news, watch some documentaries, read books.

  • Who am I?

  • How do I find my place in my high school?

  • Time capsule, things that matter to me right now.

  • One thing to do differently.

  • Something I won’t negotiate.

  • Something I want to change.

  • Three secrets.

  • My greatest fear.

  • What I’m most proud of.

Sophomore Year

Keep a new journal. Write about after-school and weekend jobs, your hopes and fears, take a risk (try out for the musical, band, join a club, start a blog). Volunteer at a soup kitchen, a food pantry, an assisted senior living home. Consider other people in the world. Do your homework. Write about a disappointment, a surprise, take a trip, learn something new, interview your grandparents, your neighbors, expand your world and take some chances.

  • Stuck in the middle.

  • What has changed?

  • Reaching out to a freshman.

  • Reaching up to a senior.

  • What drives me crazy?

  • Thing I miss most about childhood.

  • What I’ve learned since freshman year.

  • Three secrets.

  • Time capsule, things that matter to me right now.

  • Summer of sophomore year: Get a real job that involves something connected to what you like to do, or may want to pursue in college.

Junior year

Look back at your earlier journals and see if you can locate connections, patterns, ideas that reflect each other, work that you especially enjoy. Start a new journal and pursue some of these recurring interests. Write about it. If there is a creative writing class in your school see if you can fit it in. Interview people you admire. Ask them what led to their current situation. Take Advanced Placement Classes if appropriate, but not too many! If you are interested in a trade; ironwork, pipefitting, welding, etc., see if you can find a mentor and visit their job. Write a description of your perfect situation after graduation.

  • Stop asking me about college, work, etc.

  • The world sucks because…

  • Don’t tell me I’m not old enough.

  • Why do I have to take responsibility?

  • Being an adult…

  • What I know now.

  • Why am I still so (short, flat, fat, skinny, scared, etc.)?

  • Time capsule, things that matter to me right now.

  • Three secrets.

  • In the summer of Junior Year, look at the Common Application Prompts and look at the supplementary essays for your list of possible schools. Go crazy with the Prompts. Don’t judge!

Senior Year

Get your list of colleges down to five. Choose a prompt in the Common Application. Look at the supplementary essays for each of your colleges. Keep a journal with detailed descriptions of stuff-food, dreams, art, films, people, your family, your pets, your friends, your favorite things to do when you have free time. Browse through your past and imagine your future. Get help with all the other details: recommendation letters, transcripts, and see if you can take a quick visit to your five colleges staying in the dorm if possible. You should have a strong draft of your College Admission Essay by Halloween. Look at the Supplementary Essays. Make a timeline for having everything ready especially if you are applying early decision.

  • Look how much I’ve changed (go back to the time capsules).

  • Four things to do before graduation.

  • What it means to go to college/work/apprenticeship.

  • Who am I now?

  • How did I get here?

  • My motto, my beliefs, my credo.

  • If I could change one thing about the world…

  • Truths.