Shereem Herndon-Brown is the Founder and President of Strategic Admissions Advice, LLC. He is a former Admissions Officer from Georgetown University, college counselor at three private schools and Director of Middle and Upper School Admission. An Associate Member of IECA, he has clients around the country particularly in New York City, Atlanta and Dallas. http://www.strategicadmissionsadvice.com
Although there is no immediate application deadline looming, August is an intense month in our industry. With the Common Application becoming available and colleges releasing supplements, we are bombarded with “start now!!” The anxiety surrounding the college application process is upon us and, rightfully and respectively so, many of us want our kids to start early. Waiting until when school starts is dangerous and should be avoided. Too often we allow our kids to wait, and with the possibility of fall standardized testing, the inevitability of quizzes or papers on summer reading and, naturally, the emotional ups and downs of leaving home in twelve short months, the school year becomes hectic and unnecessary stress ensues.
For me, August marks the time that kids have to get serious. Whether or not they drafted a personal essay last spring or in July, there is no denying that they must do it now. Couple that with Early Decision, Early Action and Rolling deadlines a mere ten to fourteen weeks away, and I want them to be proactive and gearing up for the ride.
Having clients in New York City means 16-hour workdays for the next three months. Almost all of my students will have an early-something deadline. From August through October, I meet with students, review applications and writings online and have daily “calming” phone calls to soothe parental nerves.
Admittedly though, I am excited for this time of year. I desperately want my enthusiasm and energy to be contagious. I encourage my students to use this month, this last glimmer of late sleeping and long evenings, to create application accounts and enter in basic data while watching an evening baseball game. Once they do that I suggest that they can leave a printed copy of the CEO-produced supplemental essays on their kitchen tables and let their parents suggest ideas for questions like “Tell us about an experience in which you left your comfort zone. How did this experience change you?” (University of Richmond). And finally, I implore them to brainstorm, outline and write multiple drafts of the all-important personal essay without the hovering thought of a Physics Lab or TS Eliot paper.
I want my students to flourish within this process and learn more about who they are and which schools can help them to achieve their goals. I think August and not procrastinating can foster this. Will they produce final drafts of essays? Probably not, but starting now versus on October 10th with a November 15th deadline is preferable any day of the week.
The hardest part about this prompt is deciding which activity you will write about. You could choose the one that takes up the most hours out of your day and is your biggest commitment on paper, or you could choose the activity you are most emotionally involved in — the one that has made the biggest impact on your personal development.
Although the former may be the first to come to mind, the latter almost always ends up being a more memorable essay. Sometimes these two descriptions apply to one activity, and that is fantastic, but sometimes it may take some deeper digging to find the activity that has actually most impacted you.
For example, let’s say you’ve played soccer for the past 6 years, but never really felt a passion for it. About a year ago you started volunteering at a local school for underprivileged kids, and you find yourself most looking forward to your time spent at the school each week. You will probably want to write about the volunteer work. If you reverse it and do a lot of volunteer work, but you find that the team environment of your sports team has made a huge impact on how you collaborate with others, you should write about sports.
Once you have decided which activity you will write about, you need to focus on proper execution of the essay. If the activity is widely known (e.g., Model UN, Speech and Debate), do not spend too much time introducing the activity before jumping into your personal involvement and connection. If the activity is not well known by outsiders, you may want to spend a few sentences discussing the activity before transitioning to its significance. Further, if the activity is something completely unique, you can take this as an opportunity to dive into more detail than you can on the small space given in the extracurricular section.
No matter what, don’t forget the most important rule for any essay: directly responding to the prompt! This prompt asks for you to “discuss the significance to you” of one of your activities, so don’t skimp out on the personal piece.
You can read more about how to answer this type of question in our guide on How to Write “Most Important Extracurricular” Essays.