Don’t put essay pressure on your summer plans

If you’re a senior applying to college this fall, you may already have a plan in place to write your college essay about an upcoming summer event: work, travel, a summer program or other experience where you’re sure to come back with good stories. But preemptively choosing a college essay topic on an experience that hasn’t happened yet is not an approach I recommend.

Your summer plans may eventually serve up great fodder for college essays. But that’s still to be determined. The truth is that some perfectly enjoyable and rewarding experiences don’t translate into great stories for college essays. Some summer stories reveal a lot more about the subject than they do about the writer. Some summer stories repeat the same experience shared by many other applicants in their college essays. Some summer stories simply repeat information that’s already listed on the application. You have every reason to be excited about what’s to come, and those experiences will almost certainly earn a proud spot when they’re listed on your application. But it’s too soon to tell if they’ll give you what you need to include that experience in one of your application essays.

I’ve seen too many students (or their parents) who get preemptively locked on plans to write about an experience yet to take place only to completely lose their essay objectivity on the other side of that experience. In college essay terms, they force it. They want so badly for the summer they planned for and are now proud of to work as a story that they inject all kinds of deep meaning that wasn’t there at the time. And essays like that always feel more forced than fresh.

Don’t second guess your choices of what to do this summer—this isn’t an indictment of those plans. In fact, lean into them! You made these plans for a reason, so go make the most of—and take the most from—them. But don’t put pressure on yourself or your plans to deliver a compelling college essay, too.

Give it time. Stay open to all essay possibilities. Then when it’s time to choose your topics, you’ll have a fresh perspective on both recent and past experiences without having to contend with any preemptive essay pressure.