The 8 Ps of Writing Your College Essay

Following our 8 Ps of Writing can really help your college essay and supplemental questions shine! They are: Plan • Ponder • Purpose • Pen to Paper • Pre-write  • Play • Patience • Polish. Here we describe how to use each, in order, to make it through the essay-writing process successfully (and even have a little fun along the way!). 

PLAN – It is often easier to achieve a goal . when you have a clear understanding of what you have to do, as well as a clear set of deadlines. So before you start thinking about your essay(s), do your research. In the planning phase, identify and write down each of the essay questions that the schools you are applying to are asking, and their application deadlines. Deadlines should include the day(s) your applications are due and the day(s) by which a first or second draft should be complete. We encourage you to build in interim deadlines, such as the day by which you would like to have completed each phase of your process. During your planning period, you should also identify the individuals that will help you in the essay-writing process. You will want to be clear with them on your deadlines.

PONDER – This second phase is when you will “mind map” your essay ideas! Events that can inspire an essay may range from a small moment (or a series of small moments) to a major life event, yet it can be hard to come up with ideas when constrained by traditional brainstorming methods. Not all of us think in words, some of us think in pictures. Creating a mind map diagram of your ideas will help you when it comes time to write. No matter what, make sure each idea keeps the focus on YOU, even if others are involved. 

PURPOSE – The overall purpose of the college essay is to offer the admissions committee an insight into who you are; each of you will write with a different purpose. Is your purpose to show something you have accomplished or learned? Are you writing to discuss something you are curious about or show how you have engaged in acts of kindness? As you develop your ideas, keep the purpose of what you want to say at the forefront of your thoughts.

PUT PEN TO PAPER – This is the phase where you begin writing. After you have created your mind map, we encourage you to start with a free write, using a blank piece of paper and your favorite pen (the brighter the color, the better!)   According to research conducted at Indiana University, writing by hand stimulates creativity not easily accessible by typing.

PRE-WRITE – In this phase, don’t worry about spelling, word choice or sentence structure, or paragraph organization. This is the time to take the pictures and ideas from your mind map and write your first draft. You will have time to edit later, for now, grab your pen, a blank piece of paper, and a timer. Take a look at your map, set a timer for 15 minutes, and just write. Ignore the feelings of what you think the final essay should look like and simply write.      

PLAY  Science has proven that playing increases creativity and has several benefits in one’s overall emotional well-being.  Stuart Brown, founder of the Institute of Play and author of several books on the topic, has spent his training and career as a psychiatrist studying the benefits of play.  He has shown that “combining play with learning is an optional means for maximizing our human capacity for competency.” The more we play, the more our brain is available to be creative.

PATIENCE  As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Writing your essay will take time, but if you follow the plan you created in step one and lean into the steps of pondering, pre-writing, and playing, then your essay will be a work of art. Celebrate the wins along the way. Did you write an opening sentence you are really proud of? Celebrate. Did you find the perfect anecdote to show, not tell your story? Celebrate. Did you rearrange your paragraphs to flow better? Celebrate. Each time you sit down to a writing session, give yourself a mini goal to achieve and reward yourself for accomplishing it, even if your essay is far from being done.

POLISH – Remember, the personal statement is only 650 words, and you have already done the hard parts! This is the phase where we work towards the finished product. The first review of your draft essay should focus on content. Is your essay focused on you? Were you clear on what you did and on the results? Did you tell a story in a compelling (but also efficient) way? The second review of your draft essay should focus on grammar and spelling. During this phase, it’s helpful to read the essay out loud. This is also the time to solicit others for help (those that you identified in the planning phase). Once you review, revise, and review/revise again, the essay should be complete!

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