The college application essay, or personal statement, can be the deciding factor in getting into an elite college. With such a monumental and significant task at hand, it can be overwhelming to think about where (or how!) to begin, but it won’t be any easier to deal with once school starts up again in the fall!
College applications aren’t due for a while, but this summer gives you the best opportunity to write a killer college application essay. You should also plan to do something this summer to stand out, but set time aside to get started on those all-important college essays.
Try a few of these techniques out to get the ink flowing and figure out how to begin.
1. Keep a notebook
Our minds are best at coming up with ideas when we’re doing something else (like taking a shower). It’s useful to carry around something to jot these thoughts down before you forget. It’s not just for ideas — a “commonplace book” compiles any quotes, observations, facts, or stories and anecdotes that you find interesting. You can use the Notes app on your phone, but we recommend getting a physical pad or notebook (something small enough to keep with your wallet).
2. Write out loud
If most of your attempts to write involve staring at a blinking cursor, give up on the written word for now. Instead, start recording yourself speaking. This is a great way to make sure your essay is “in your voice,” and it also keeps you from trying to write and edit at the same time. Editing comes later!
3. Set a timer
Try setting a timer for 15, 20, or even 5 minutes—the goal is to write continuously, not lifting up your pen, until the timer goes off. Hopefully, you’ll get some ideas flowing instead of trying to write a spotless essay on your first try!
4. Give up on inspiration
Set a writing schedule and stick to it. It sounds too simple to be real advice, but the best cure for writer’s block is to write.
As with most of life, it’s not inspiration or motivation that gets results — it’s discipline.
5. Go for a walk
Changing up your surroundings and getting some fresh air can really make a difference. Studies have shown that a 15-20 minute walk outside increases productivity and sparks creative thinking.
6. Find a rubber duck
How many times have you answered your own question while asking it, or figured out a solution while trying to explain the problem? Trying to explain something, even to an inanimate object, can help us understand it better ourselves. Find something to talk to about the essay you’re trying to write and why you’re having trouble. Computer programmers use rubber ducks, but a pet, stuffed animal, or boy band poster can work just as well.
7. Keep writing
One of the biggest contributing factors to writer’s block is self-censorship. Self-censorship happens when you feel as if you need the “perfect” phrase or sentence in mind before committing anything to paper. This hinders the creative process, making it difficult to test out ideas and finish a first draft. In fact, the more you write, and the more ideas you try out—no matter how bad they are—the more likely you are to end up with an excellent final product.
Persistence is key, so start thinking and writing early so you have plenty of time to tackle this critical part of your college application.