In the last blog post, we looked at the Home Stretch tool, and how a week-by-week game plan for college applications can make fall of senior year far more manageable.

Since so much of the application work during the fall is writing responses to colleges' supplemental prompts, I want to share some tips on organizing your approach. 

There are two central objectives: maximizing efficiency and creating a sense of momentum.

FIRST: Compile all of your prompts in one place

That way, you can be strategic in planning your responses. Look to see where the themes align. Many of the talking points you use to describe your goals and needs for college in the Why Us? questions should be the same, no matter what school you're writing for.

If you are, say, writing Babson's "How do you define yourself and what is it about Babson that excites you?" and also need to write Syracuse's "Who is the person you dream of becoming and how do you believe Syracuse University can help you achieve this?", recognize that both are about your identity. While you'll need to address the bits about each particular institution separately, there is plenty of overlap in the way that you examine yourself across the past, present, and future.

THEN: Break it all down.

Return to your week-by-week Home Stretch plan for the fall, and, working backward from your intended submission dates, plan out your writing process in several phases.

I suggest breaking each piece into these six steps:

  1. Research/Brainstorm: you are not yet writing! Take the pressure off by first jotting down ideas, notes, or URLs that contain information you'll reference when you write your piece.
  2. Crank out a first draft: apologies for being crude, but glance over your ideas and barf out a piece from start to finish. Then walk away. Seriously. It's SO much easier to sit down and fill a blank screen when you have zero expectations for the initial quality of the writing.
  3. Edit it: in a separate sitting, return to embarrassment that was your rough draft, and turn it into something presentable. Add the information you left out in your first pass, and make sure that the piece is something that you don't mind sharing (too much). (NOTE: if I haven't been clear enough, it is vital that you keep steps #2 and #3 separate! Editing is much easier if you have something to work with first.)
  4. Get feedback: give your piece to someone whose perspective you value, who'll give you honest and insightful feedback. Make sure that person has expressed the willingness to help (obviously), and include the prompt with your response. Never give the same version of one piece to more than one reader at one time! I'd recommend allowing at least one full week for your reader to get back to you, unless you have a different sort of arrangement in place.
  5. Revise it: using the feedback you've been given, go back through and make the changes that will improve the strength of your response. (Be prepared to repeat steps #4 and #5 multiple times for the longer or more complex supplements.)
  6. Polish, copy, paste & SUBMIT! Triple check to make sure your piece is error-free. Don't count on spell check to ensure that you have the names of colleges correct!