How to Plan Ahead for College Essays | Winward Academy


How to Plan Ahead for College Admission Essays

If you’re like 99% of high school seniors, then as you’re preparing for college apps and reviewing the writing prompts, you’re likely struggling to figure out where to even start. Here are five tips to get you started on the right path.

TIP 1: Research, research, research

Colleges won’t learn anything about you from a generic essay explaining why you want to attend Michigan in which you just reuse your “Why Ohio” essay and replace “Ohio” with “Michigan.” If you’re asked to describe why you want to go to a college, your answer should be incredibly specific. First of all, it’s important for YOU to know specifically why a college is a great fit for your academic, personal, and professional goals. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be applying there. The next task is to communicate in a specific, genuine way why that college is the best fit. Consider a school’s identity – its slogan, its mission, its research, its unique service projects, its niche areas of expertise – and determine how you fit its identify. Only then will you be ready to start writing why you want to go there.

TIP 2: Think of college as a two-way street

Yes, you’re going to college and will gain a lot from the school – its professors, its resources, its career center, its spirit. But get inspired by our 35th president JFK – think not of what your college can do for you but what you can do for your college. You’re going to be a contributing member of the campus community, and you’ll want to envision how you see yourself growing as an active, involved member of the campus (e.g., academics, research, student leadership, professional programs, or work opportunities at the bookstore or alumni relations office).

TIP 3: Consider small moments

Sometimes the best, most memorable essays are about a conversation or a moment. Small moments can make big impacts – ones that affect confidence, perspective, and values. Don’t overlook what may seem mundane but has actually been profound. Cliché topics like service trips and sports can prevent something being unique to you. Sometimes the more specific a topic you pick – even those small moments – the bigger the story you tell.

TIP 4: Start early and take your time

Whatever you do, do not wait until the last minute. Applications can become burdensome when added on top of senior classes, activities, jobs, and everything else you have going on. Invest the time, in advance, to do it right. The essays, specifically, can take longer than you expect (often times months), especially with multiple rounds of revisions. If you want to receive comments from editors, then you need to have time to receive and incorporate their feedback. Remember the final product you submit has your name on it, so you should honor yourself while considering and incorporating others’ feedback.

TIP 5: Record yourself talking and listen to your own storytelling

The best way to capture your voice is to talk to someone close to you (or even to a pet) about important moments of growth, reflection, and challenge in your life. As you’re sharing, record yourself. Play back what you say – note how you say it. The moments of vulnerability, passion, and authenticity will come through. Use this recording to guide your writing process. You can even type verbatim what you say if you really like it. Remember your ultimate goal is to capture your voice and to stay true to yourself. There’s no better way to achieve that goal than to capture your voice from the outset.


Looking for additional insight to put together a stellar college essay? Here are even more expert tips!


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About Winward Academy – Winward Academy is one of the world’s leading innovators in the online education space, providing web-based academic support that enhances students’ knowledge, confidence, and competitiveness in middle and high school academics and in college applications. We help thousands of students every year by providing personalized, comprehensive ACT and SAT test preparation and extensive math curriculum support. The Winward Academy learning platform honors over 40 years of education and cognitive psychology research, incorporating proven techniques that promote effective learning.

Winward Academy’s unmatched reputation is wholly attributable to our students’ exceptional success and to the trust earned among students, parents, and schools around the world.

Jennifer Winward, Ph.D.

Dr. Jennifer Winward is a renowned college instructor, a distinguished 20-year veteran of high school tutoring, and the founder and lead instructor of Winward Academy. She earned her Ph.D. specializing in adolescent brain development and adolescent learning. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude with highest distinction honors. Dr. Winward has been widely recognized for her academic success, published research, and philanthropic efforts with awards from the President of the United States, the California State Assembly, Rotary International, the Marin County School Administrator Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Science Foundation.

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