Soundtrack to the Essay-Writing Process of Your Dreams
We know that working on your college applications (especially the essays) is likely the last thing you want to do. They require focus, deep thought, and lots of time. To help ease the process, we asked our SCU Ambassadors to reflect on their own experiences and share songs that helped inspire and push them through the challenge of writing their college application essays. They shared a variety of jams, as well as some nuggets of advice that were echoed repeatedly: give yourself time to reflect and don’t wait until the week (or night) before the deadline to start writing. Check out our suggestions on how to structure the writing process and an accompanying soundtrack to help set the mood. Because we know that people need different working environments, we offer songs with lyrics as well as instrumental options!
Reflect on your Life
Before you begin writing, take the time to reflect on your life and think about the story you want to tell. What moments have defined your life? What lessons have you learned? If you keep a journal, go back and read it! Let your reflection process be your own and take some solid time just thinking about you.
Picking Your Prompt - Be Authentic
You are incredible just as you are! If you have a choice in essay prompts, know that there is no “magic” choice. Don’t try to force yourself into telling a story that isn’t yours. What will shine through most is being authentic and using your own voice. If you are having trouble, we suggest jotting down thoughts about multiple prompts and then sleeping on it. When you come back to it, see which one excites you the most. (Note: please do not feel like you have to spill your soul in your essay or relive any trauma. You have so many interesting things about you that admission counselors want to learn. There is space in the Additional Information part of the application to give any important context, so let your essay be about you and your passions.)
Write When (and Where) You Feel Creative
Don’t force the process! If you aren’t feeling it, set aside some time later. Know that you have plenty to tell us, and it will all come together. Also consider the environment in which you work. Do you like natural light? Do you need background noise? Do you need to put away all the clothes and assorted items that have made their home on “the chair” in the corner? Consider making a dedicated space, if possible, where you can write (we will share more on this below).
Brain Dump/Word Vomit
Writing is hard! Even harder? Writing about yourself. But you’ve got to just start. Instead of trying to write a well-structured essay on your first attempt, begin with a brain dump (or my preferred term - word vomit). Just get it out on the page or on your screen. Don’t worry about how it sounds or if you even make sense - just write down words/phrases/experiences that you might want to communicate in your essay.
*Editing pro tip: It is always easier to revise by cutting out than it is to add more in.
Set The Tone
As we mentioned earlier, your physical space can impact your writing experience. Craft a writing environment for yourself that will encourage you to write. Do you need a little bit of a push? Should you listen to instrumentals to decrease distraction? Is there a specific artist or album that inspires you? Whatever it is, add to your ambience with background tracks that get you in that productive mood. Visuals can help too: photos of cherished memories, art that inspires you, dream vacation destinations. Check out virtual museum tours for some extra inspiration, or maybe these national parks are more your style.
Writing your college essay (and the whole application process) is stressful. Take breaks! Not only will these breaks be highly enjoyable, but they will also allow your eyes and your brain to rest, letting you come back to work refreshed and ready to go. We suggest songs that are fun and easy to listen to. If you can dance to them, even better.
After you’ve completed a draft (congrats!), have someone else take a look at it. It is easy to self-correct our writing in our own head because we know what we meant to say, but that may not be what we’ve actually said. It may be scary letting someone else read your story because it is so personal, so ask a trusted friend or family member. After seeking feedback, make edits to your essay. Honestly, this is the fun part (okay, second to actually hitting submit)! You have a draft to work with, and you are simply making tweaks to ensure it tells your story in a way that makes you proud.
*Editing pro tip: The editing process will likely take multiple rounds, so make sure you have set aside enough time for this step!
Bonus Track - Supplemental Essays
A supplemental essay is like a love song to that specific college, so be specific. Tell them exactly why you want to be a part of their community. How will they help you learn and grow? What will you bring to the table? Why do you want to bring it to their specific table? If you have visited or interacted with that school, tell them how and what you appreciated about it. The main thing is to really tailor this essay to the school. Tell them exactly what you love about them and why.
We hope these tips and accompanying songs help put you in the mood to tell your story. Get a notepad or word doc ready, take a deep breath, and crank the tunes!