Eliminating The College “Essay Stress” Epidemic

Thousands of prospective college students breeze through the fill-in-the-blank sections of a college’s application. Then, their eyes drift down, and the panic sets in. When it comes time to finally tackle the essay portion, there’s no question that you’d rather be anywhere but in front of a computer screen. While we all aspire to write that “winning” essay (the one that knocks the socks off of the admissions officers, the one that has them literally begging you to attend their school), many students stress themselves out too much when it comes to actually writing the essays.

Essays and personal statements, while important, aren’t the sole factor that determines whether a college will send that hoped-for, long-awaited acceptance letter in the spring. And, while there is no magic button we can press to make the essays write themselves, there are a few steps you can take that are sure to reduce essay anxiety.

1. Answer the question

There’s nothing more off-putting to an admissions officer than a student who writes a five-hundred word essay as a segue to a topic that is kind of, sort of, maybe, almost semi-related to the prompt. Read the prompt or question carefully and understand it completely before you begin drafting. It’s easier (and quicker) to get it right the first time, instead of trying to rescue an essay that’s gone astray. After you’re done writing the essay, ask a parent, teacher or friend to read it and have them focus on content– Does the essay adequately answer the college’s prompt?

2. Don’t be afraid of the “personal statement”

There’s the cut-and-dried “tell us why you want to attend our college,” or “explain why you chose your specific major,” but there’s also the ever-elusive and often open-ended “personal statement.” This can (and often does) send us students sweating. The first thing to realize is that there is no “perfect topic” for a personal statement, so don’t stress too much about coming up with a topic that you think is the one thing that admissions is looking for. The truth is, the admissions officers are looking for you to be yourself. They want to get to know you better as a person, the human being behind the GPA and transcripts. Write about what you know, and write genuinely. It’s much easier to open up about something you are passionate about or recount a favorite memory that reveals something about the real you. Since nobody knows this topic better than you do, your personality and voice will shine.

3. Get started early

Leave yourself adequate time to write multiple drafts and then to edit your essays and personal statements. The sooner you get started, the less stressed you will feel (and the fewer editing mistakes you’re likely to make). The opposite is also true: The more rushed you feel, the more mistakes will creep into your writing. When you’ve finished your first draft, leave it alone for a couple of days and then come back with fresh eyes. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to catch simple mistakes that you overlooked before. Then, spell check and proofread. Typos and grammatical errors can spell the difference between acceptance and rejection. Now, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and wait for the influx of acceptance letters that are sure to come in the spring.

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Emma Weissmann

Emma Weissmann

Emma Weissmann is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing a degree in News-Editorial Journalism with an interdisciplinary minor in Leadership Studies. Emma enjoys traveling, trying new foods, and snuggling up on the couch with her cat, “Louie.” She also spends her time volunteering and hanging out with family and friends.
Emma Weissmann

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