5 Tips for Stress-Free and Successful Application Essays

If you start planning your college application strategy now, you will be less stressed in the summer and fall, and more likely to get into your top-choice colleges. We promise!

Here are 5 steps you can take to get started on the right track:

1. Start a college journal

The college process includes a zillion details to keep track of: the admissions officers who visit your school; the course you read about that you want to include in your application; questions to ask your AP chemistry teacher about her experience at Vassar.

Whether you use a paper notebook or a separate folder on your computer, a college journal helps you keep all that college stuff organized and in one place.

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2. What do you want?

It’s easy to get scooped up into the “what do colleges want” way of looking at things. Take a step back, and focus on what you want first. There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. alone, and fabulous options outside the U.S., as well.

  • Do you want small or large?
  • City or country?
  • Liberal arts or focused on one type of program?

Have you researched special programs like study abroad, internships, and professional mentoring programs?

3. What do you want colleges to know about you?

You want to build your college application strategy piece-by-piece, starting with your strengths—and not just “I am ambitious and work hard” like everyone says.

Find the moments from your past that make a case for the type of person you will be in a college community.

Explore those moments in your college journal. Remember that the best college essays often develop from everyday events like a walk to school or a dinner table conversation.

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4. Talk to your teachers about their college choices and learning

One great resource you may overlook is your teachers.

Take time to talk to them about their college experience—not just where they went to college, but how they decided, what they learned outside the classroom. Try asking them, “If you had college to do again and could do one thing differently, what would that be?”

5. Take responsibility for your process

It’s really great if you can figure out a way to communicate with your parents throughout the admissions process.

You’ll want to talk to them about how you are going to pay for college, and they can help you research and visit a variety of colleges. But ultimately it’s your responsibility and you should be driving the train.


College admissions is a marathon, not a sprint. So give yourself plenty of time to plan, strategize, and make your parents partners in the process, and you will be much happier the whole way through.

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