Ah, summer. Time for beaches, sleeping in… and writing your college admission essays.
Sure, it’s not the most fun part of your summer, but it is important. And, most guidance counselors recommend getting this part of your college application out of the way as soon as possible.
Thankfully there are all sorts of online tools out there that can take a lot of the stress out of the writing process. Then, you can get back to enjoying your summer as quickly as possible!
We’re not talking about the online services that will “help” you by writing your paper for you. That’s not cool. And it’s also not what colleges want. Colleges want to hear your authentic voice so that they can make an informed decision about how you would fit into their environment as a student!
Here are some recommended online tools to help you beat procrastination, organize your thoughts, double-check your grammar, and hit all the right points for your essay.
Understanding the College Essay
You spent all of high school learning how to write an academic essay, but colleges want something completely different for your admission essays. Thankfully, there are a wealth of online resources out there that can help guide you towards the kind of essay that colleges are looking for.
1. Khan Academy’s College Admissions Course
Applying to college is not an easy process to understand! Chances are that you have never applied to college before, so it’s difficult to know which steps to do and when to do them. Thankfully, Khan Academy has a video for literally everything. This free course outlines every step of the admissions process, including a video that’s specifically about college essays.
2. College Preparedness Sites and Blogs
There are several great sites online dedicated to helping prospective college students tackle the admissions process. You may prefer these sites to video courses when searching for specific or time-sensitive information. Two great options we found are:
Both sites have fantastic essay writing resources, as well as checklists for your overall application process! College Confidential‘s admissions columnist Dave Barry also writes numerous fantastic articles about admissions in his column “Admit This!”
3. Prospective Schools’ Websites
We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to go directly to the source for many of your questions. While many schools now accept applications through the Common Application, others have their own specific rules. Before finalizing any essay, be sure to check it against the list of requirements put out by each school.
Try searching “admissions essay” on the school’s website (or “[Name of College] + Admissions Essay” on Google) to find this information for each of the schools you are considering.
Okay, you know what a college admissions essay is. Now you just have to write it. Easier said than done, right? Procrastination is really difficult to overcome — especially when you would rather be relaxing by a pool! Thankfully, there are a lot of tools out there that can help you stop procrastinating.
Procrastination is easiest when you don’t have a plan in place. Setting a specific goal helps keep you on track to get your essay written and perfected in plenty of time. Ignore the fact that this web tool is for veterinary professionals — the concepts apply to students as well!
SMART goals are ideal because they ensure that your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-limited. Once you write out your essay-related goals and create an outline of potential self-imposed deadlines, you will find it much easier to take the process step by step!
5. Self-Control App (Mac) or Cold Turkey (Windows)
It’s so easy to sit down at your computer with the best of intentions, only to realize four hours later that you haven’t written a single word. You have, however, completely caught up on every social media page, news site, weather forecast, and addictive browser game out there.
There’s no denying that self-control can take a lot of energy, but thankfully you can outsource it to an app. Both Self-Control and Cold Turkey allow you to completely block yourself from
6. Forest (iOS, Android) [No Longer Available]
Okay, it’s great that you can’t access any distractions using your computer… but your phone is sitting right next to you. Don’t worry, there are apps to help prevent procrastination on your phone too. Forest is one of our favorites because it is adorable, non-aggressive, and surprisingly addictive. To use the app, you plant a virtual tree — as long as you don’t check your phone, the tree grows. But, if you check it before time is up the tree will die.
You will be amazed by how quickly you become invested in growing your tiny virtual forest! And, best of all, for each tree you grow a donation is made that helps to fund the planting of real trees!
You know what you’re going to write, and you have every conceivable distraction blocked… now it’s time to get down to business. Instead of immediately trying to write a full-fledged essay, it might be a better idea to start out with some brainstorming. Getting all your ideas down can be a risk-free and stress-free way to start the writing process.
7. Read Past Success Stories
One of the best ways to get a feel for college applications is to read lots of past essays. But you want to be sure that you read ones that were successful!
8. Make a Mind Map
Once you start thinking about an essay prompt your mind may start to travel in eighty directions at once. Harness that energy by using a brainstorming tool like mind mapping, where you write out every idea you have and link them to each other. Then, you have a visual representation of your thought process to look back on when it is time to start writing.
Putting Pen to Paper (or Fingers to Keys)
Feel like you’re ready to start writing? Awesome. These tools will help you get your ideas written out before you know it.
9. Story2 StoryScape [No Longer Available]
While you do need to pay for some Story2 features, the free ones are incredibly helpful. The StoryScape tool, for example, challenges you to write for just five minutes about one of the Common Application prompts.
The “Colleges” tool is also super helpful, because it collects the essay prompts for each potential college in a single location.
10. Write or Die
Do you often spend time agonizing over each word you write? While this can sometimes be helpful, other times it can prevent you from getting anything done! Write Or Die is a program that forces you to keep up a pace with your writing — or else it starts to erase what you have already written!
If that feels a bit too high-stakes for you, you may like Written?Kitten! [Broken URL Removed] instead, which rewards you with an adorable kitten image every time you write a certain number of words.
Refining Your Writing
Once you have your drafts written, it’s time to edit and revise your essays within an inch of their lives. This part of the process can be frustrating and nit-picky, but these tools and resources help to take some of the angst away.
A great option for revising your work, StoryToolz offers several distinct web-based tools to give you feedback on your writing. Try the “Cliché Buster” and the “Readability” tools first! Simply copy and paste your admissions essay into the tool and press submit.
Some of the feedback may not apply (no automated tool is perfect) but you may be surprised by the changes it suggests!
Having trouble thinking of another word for “great”? Don’t just turn to any random online thesaurus or dictionary! WordNik offers you in-depth definitions as well as accurate synonyms and many examples of how you can use the word in a sentence.
13. Check for Plagiarism
Plagiarism is a serious concern in higher education. Even if you wrote your essay from scratch, it’s always a good idea to ensure it isn’t too similar to another person’s work. If you have access to Turn It In through your school, that program is one of the gold standards for plagiarism checking.
Thankfully, for those of us without Turn It In access, there are also free services like Plagiarism Checker and PlagTracker available.
14. Talk to Other Students
Sometimes it’s helpful to hear from other students going through the same experiences as you. Community forums like Reddit offer a chance for students to share ideas, experiences, and tips. /r/ApplyingToCollege offers general support while /r/CollegeEssayReview connects students with users willing to review college essays (just be sure to check the subreddit guidelines to understand the process before posting).
You can always search for specific subreddits dedicated to each school (your mileage may vary). If you aren’t a Reddit user, there are some very active forums at College Confidential that might be more your style.
Now You’re Set!
Whew! There’s no denying that college applications are a lot of work. And the college admissions essay is often the most stressful part of the process for most people. Hopefully these online tools and resources will help you to finish your admissions essays quickly and easily.
Then, it’s time to get back to enjoying your summer. After all, before you know it, it’ll be time to start studying again.
Good luck with your applications! Have you used any other online resources I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments below!
Image Credit: theskaman306 via Shutterstock.com