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    How to Develop a College Essay Writing Timeline

    2 Minutes Read

    While you may be able to dash off a literary analysis on the themes in Macbeth the night before, because colleges are looking to your application essays to learn about the development of YOUR character and values—and it can be far harder to write about yourself than anything else— you are going to want to start early.

    How early? To think through what makes the most sense for you, work backward. How many colleges are you planning to apply to? How many essays will be required to complete the applications? When do you want to submit your applications?

    For the majority of our students who are applying to 10 highly selective colleges (many of our students apply to a few more), it is not uncommon to have between 25 and 35 essays to write.

    Given the sheer amount of work, the fact that early application deadlines begin in October of your senior year when you will probably be taking a rigorous course load with multiple AP courses and continuing to participate in time-consuming extra-curricular activities, we recommend our students begin the process in earnest by January of their Junior year.

    While it can be compressed, here is an ideal timeline :



    This is the best time to work on your Common App essay. Because it’s early, you can afford to go through a thorough brainstorming process to unearth your richest topic and a creative angle from which to tell your story. It of course varies, but we often see the best essays develop over an average of 7-10 drafts.

    Because you are completing your college research, it is also the best time to write one of your longer supplemental essays that essentially asks “Why Us?” The University of Pennsylvania puts it this way:

    How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.



    This is the time to customize other “Why Us” essays and write other common supplements that multiple colleges ask. Because every college asks the “Why Us” question a bit different, take your time to make sure each is well tailored to the specific college.

    Many colleges will ask you to write about a meaningful extra-curricular activity and your place in one of the communities you belong to. While it may be easier to find your topic, these are every bit as important as your Common App and “Why Us” essays. Here is an example of one question Brown University asks:

    Tell us about the place, or places, you call home. These can be physical places where you have lived or a community or group that is important to you.

    Learn how to write Brown's supplement essays!



    Now is the time to write unique supplemental essays. Some of these may be less demanding, but others can be more significant. Meant to be a fun way to get to know more about you, students sometimes find Stanford University’s request that you “write a letter to your new roommate” quite difficult.

    The University of Chicago is famous for its open-ended essay questions such as, Where’s Waldo really? Or What’s so odd about odd numbers? Yes, those are real questions that help determine who is the right fit for them.  

    No matter what, remember to proofread all your essays one final time before hitting submit and then celebrate!


    At its worst, the essay writing process can cause an inordinate amount of stress, anxiety, and frustration. At its best, however, if planned out ahead of time, the process can launch you on a path to success in admissions and well beyond. Why? Because it challenges you to think deeply about yourself and learn to tell meaningful stories that make an impact and inspire others.

    At Princeton College Consulting we bring structure, organization, and accountability to the College essay writing process. We enjoy helping students tell their stories, but before that, we provide the mentorship for students to become the kind of young women and men that have great stories to tell. Contact us today to learn more.

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