We should all sympathize with high school seniors right now. Besides juggling all of the traditional teenage stuff, they’re being asked – in their words, not mine – to write the most important essay of their life. And it isn’t just one essay. Depending on the colleges a student is applying to, it could easily be double-digit essays.
There’s tons of advice out there. The first tips usually go something like this:
“Relax.” Sure, that goes over well with a 17-year-old. Or, “Instead of seeing the essay as a challenge, look at it as an opportunity to share your innermost thoughts.” Raise your hand if that didn’t work either.
Here are some suggestions:
• Do something else creative – cook, draw, paint, sing, play music. The hope is that by engaging in another creative activity your mind will open up and be less judgmental.
• Do something physical – get centered with yoga, run, take a Zumba class. Take deep breaths and approach the assignment with more positive thoughts.
• Find a better writing space. Remove distractions by going to a library, or if you enjoy the buzz of conversation, head to a coffee shop and get stimulated.
• Try a different time of day. If you’ve tried writing every night after dinner and you’re coming up empty, head to bed early and wake up early to see if the juices are flowing in the a.m.
• Assign yourself a free-writing exercise. Just write without any critique about anything that is important to you. “Why do you love to...?” Or “I’ve changed a lot since freshman year, here’s how.”
• Talk it out. Pick someone who knows you really well. It’s not necessary for this person to be a parent. Have them ask you questions that would help someone else get to know you better. Ask them to get you talking about some life experiences you’ve had and what you’ve learned.
• Think small. Colleges don’t expect you to have saved the world from Ebola, they’re just trying to learn what you care about and whether you’ll be a good fit for their campus. You can talk about something as simple as a car ride you had with your younger sibling. Maybe the two of you talked and you found out that he/she is struggling with something. What was your reaction? How has your relationship changed?
• Remember to allow time for the essay topic to marinate; in other words, don’t wait until the last minute. Write, rest, rewrite are wise words. Take some time between the first draft and the first edit. Ask others to read it to make sure it “sounds like you” and shares some insightful thoughts.