The Procrastinator’s Guide to Admissions Essays

By Ryan Hickey + updated on January 7th, 2013

January 7th. Early and first-round application deadlines were so long ago that you can barely remember them. Even many regular and second-round deadlines have faded into the past. At this point, there are just a handful of late application deadlines left to take advantage of. If you’re planning to submit an application but haven’t yet started writing an essay or personal statement, this post is for you. Here are 6 tips especially designed to help procrastinators make the most of the time left and still come out with a great piece of admissions writing.

1. Start Right Now

Whether your deadline is tomorrow or a week down the road, now’s the perfect time to get started. Procrastinators tend to operate with a mentality of, “Well, I haven’t started yet, so I may as well wait until the absolute last minute at this point.” Break free from this line of thinking. Starting 18 hours before your deadline is much better than starting 12 hours before. Even a small amount of extra time could be the difference between submitting an essay that’s mediocre and one that’s very good.

2. Set a Schedule

Before you start writing, evaluate how best to allocate the time available. If at all possible, plan out when you’d like to have drafts done, block off time for editing and/or third-party feedback, and give yourself as much buffer time as possible before your application is due to account for unexpected problems such as technical issues. Use calendar program reminders or even alarms to notify you when you’ve hit certain milestones. Establishing a schedule, whether it’s for a 6-hour period or a 6-day period, will help you track progress and maximize efficiency.

3. Find the Right Writing Environment

If you’re a procrastinator, you also may be a person who is easily distracted. Whether it’s social networking sites, your favorite television shows, calls/texts/chats with friends, or something else entirely, there are undoubtedly many things you’d rather be doing than writing an application essay. The essay won’t write itself, though, so you’re going to have to get through it one way or another. Make it easier to focus on the task at hand by distancing yourself from the things most likely to distract you. Turn off your phone, unplug the wireless router, hide the remote control, and do whatever else necessary to help you focus uninterrupted.

4. Brainstorm and Outline

Writers facing a time crunch tend to skimp on or skip completely the pre-writing process – brainstorming and outlining – and instead dive straight into writing. It can feel like this will save time, when in reality, it usually makes the writing harder and costs you precious minutes or hours in the long run while leaving you with a lower quality finished product. By taking a chunk of time to brainstorm and outline, you will minimize instances of writer’s block, give your writing more direction and cohesiveness, and generally end up with a stronger first draft. Thus, you’ll save time not only during the writing process, but also further down the line when you start revising.

5. Take Breaks

This tip can be challenging for procrastinators to accept, as they often feel like their decision to start late means that they must work straight through from start to finish. Taking breaks, however, will help you improve the quality of your writing and avoid writer’s block. From a 15-minute snack break to a full afternoon spent with friends, time spent away from your essay helps you better evaluate what you’ve already written and come up with fresh ideas. Breaks can and should be scheduled from the very beginning (their frequency and duration will obviously depend on how much time you have available), but you should also try and have enough flexibility that if you hit an unexpected patch of writer’s block, you can step away from your work and come back to it a bit later.

6. Involve Another

Finally, if you’ve waited until the last minute, it can be tempting to simply write and submit your essay without feedback from anyone else. Avoid this if at all possible. The earlier you start, the easier it will be to have someone else read and comment on your work. Even if it’s the night before your application is due, though, see if you can find someone to help you out. Ask a parent ¬†or call in a favor with a friend. You’ll be glad you did – seeing how your essay comes across to someone who isn’t you helps you catch mistakes and iron out trouble spots before an admissions officer sees them.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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One Response to “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Admissions Essays”

  1. I concur in your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your future updates

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