Check out Ratnika Prasad's (Cornell ‘14) take on writing her first essay.

The one where it all begins
Writing is hard. To someone like me from a CBSE background who was never involved in the school’s editorial board, the idea of producing about 10-12 ESSAYS (actual long pieces of writing not involving quoting a textbook) was much more daunting than giving the SATs.  But with time (LOTS of time) and an endless number of revisions, I managed to make it through the endless writing samples and have at least 7 essays today which I am extremely proud of. So here’s what I did and what I should have NOT done.

+⎫I started off with the Common App essay. I would strongly recommend this because it is the most general essay and you don’t have to worry about pleasing a certain college or answering a certain question. If you’ve reached the stage where you’re worrying about writing essays, you are bound to have some ideas floating about in your mind. Instead of refining them in your mind, try writing them down. You’ll end up rewriting about 10 times but by the end of it, you’ll have a definite sense of how the essay flows.

- I read a LOT of sample essays. Before you start writing, it’s a good idea to read some essays to get a sense of how they are written. But too many samples right before your first essay can make you feel really negative about your own writing. Read about 5 and then shut that essay sample book.

+ I changed the tone of my essay drastically. My essay centered on a loss I’d suffered. My first drafts were focused more on the loss but after revisions, the focus shifted to HOW I coped with that loss. I am glad I did this because in hindsight, it made my essay more of a reflection of my personal strengths.

- I spent WAY too much time polishing and perfecting my very first essay before starting with the others. Not only does that put you back on your essay writing schedule but also increases the stress load. A better idea is to move to writing other essays and then reading your Common App essay again. With more writing experience, you can better polish your previous essays.

+ I discovered the Word 2007 Review tab. To the more computer literate of you this might sound ludicrous but to the more illiterate ones like me, the Review tab is a godsend. Organizing drafts of your essay is EXTREMELY helpful and I cannot emphasize that enough. Save each successive draft and use the “track changes” button like it’s a free pass to an ice cream parlour. When you’re finally done, do make sure to view the essay once in “Final showing markup” to confirm that it’s clean.

Writing is like long distance running. It takes all your mental fortitude to convince yourself to get out and do it but by the time you’ve done a couple of rounds you’re on a roll. So grit yourself to get through this first one and believe me, essay writing will seem like a cinch after that. Happy writing!