How Long Before the Deadline Should You Begin Writing Your College Essay?

Is there actually a good time to start writing your college essays?  

You bet. 

As you discuss where you’d like to apply to college, you should begin to create a list of potential options with your parents and guidance counselors.

This list will act as a guide for planning how many essays you’ll need to write.

Schools with supplemental essays will often have prompts open-ended enough that if you plan ahead, you’ll be able to use the same essay (or a variation of it) for multiple schools. Therefore, it’s beneficial for you to plan ahead, as it will  will save you time.

Since well over 600 schools use the Common Application, it is highly likely that you will need to write a Common Application essay, which is a 650 word personal narrative based on your choice of 7 prompts.

While there is no “right” time to begin this essay, the end of junior year or the summer before senior year is a good time to start brainstorming for and drafting your essay.

Supplemental essays are often shorter than the Common Application or Coalition Application essays, and typically range from 100 to 500 words.

A shorter essay does not mean that you will need less time to write it, however. Often, shorter essays can be more challenging to write as you need to get your point across concisely.

Therefore, it makes sense to begin them only after you’re certain you will apply to that school or program. Again, planning ahead to see where you can use a variation of the same essay is a good idea.

The best time to start your essay is when you have a stroke of inspiration. For many students, when they’re in a good-feeling place, an idea will pop into their minds, and the essay will almost write itself.

In both my research and in my observations, stress is the #1 killer of great college essays ideas. Make time for yourself, and then work on your essays. In my experience, this is the most effective approach.

Lastly, you’ll want to leave ample time to revise your essays. Senior year can be hectic, and you still want to have time to relax and have fun. Getting a head start on your college essays over the summer is a good idea. Use the fall of senior year to fine-tune your essays and to polish your applications!

Happy Writing!

This blog was written by Jaclyn Corley, Founder of The College Essay Captain and digital course creator of College Essay Playbook

The College Essay Captain helps teens overcome their fears and limiting beliefs around writing college application essays, so they are free to authentically share their stories with admissions teams.