Every year College Counseling Director Sonia Bell and I meet with sophomores who have questions about the college process. We don’t do this because we think the end of 10th grade is the right time to shift into high gear. It’s not. We do it to put kids at ease and demystify the process, not to get the ball rolling. In fact, we often caution against front-loading too much of the college search process. Preferences change, and what kids think they want at the end of their sophomore year may shift dramatically by the fall of their senior year. There’s little advantage to jumpstarting the college search, and pushing kids before they’re ready is a recipe for stress and anxiety. That said, there’s one area where we strongly encourage an early start: The College Essay.
We always tell our juniors to get moving on their essays over the summer. “Don’t wait till next year. Use the break.” They don’t always listen, but it’s good advice. Writing about yourself isn’t easy, and doing it well is surprisingly difficult. It takes honest self-examination, artful writing and careful editing. Most importantly, it takes time. Students do a great deal of analytical writing in school, but they have little practice crafting personal narratives or reflecting on their own character. But personality and character are what the college essay is all about. Everything else in the application is factual and data-driven – transcripts, test scores, biographical information, lists of activities, etc. The essay, however, is an opportunity – the opportunity – for kids to breathe life into their application, to share something of who they are, what they value, and how they see the world.
In the summer months, kids face fewer distractions, less pressure, lower stress, and fewer responsibilities. And of course, they have the luxury of time. More time for thinking and self-reflection. More time for collaboration, guidance and feedback from adults. More time to share their stories and find their own voice. Could they hold off until the fall and still write a decent essay? Sure. But with team sports, tough classes and after-school activities all competing for their time, kids who wait are pressing their luck. Every year we have students who leave the essay writing to mid-October, only to find themselves scrambling, panicking, and generally spread too thin. And they all kick themselves for not having written over the summer.
The college search and application process is more individualized than most people think, with each student charting a distinct path and moving at his or her own pace. In college counseling, we meet kids where they are and tailor the process to the needs of the individual and family. But some advice is universal, including this: Take time to work on your college essay over the summer. Come fall, you’ll be glad you did.
Read St. Luke's alumni reflect on The Paths to Yale.
St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.
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