Guest column: High-schoolers, start thinking about college essays

By PATRICIA KRAHNKE, guest columnist

High school students simply don’t understand the amount of writing that will be required of them in applying to college and for scholarships.

I help students with essay organizing and content development, and often, the pages of essay prompts alone reaches eight or more. It’s overwhelming.

What I have found through years of helping students with this process is that the earlier they begin the introspection and writing required by these types of essays, the better their college admissions outcomes are.

If you will be applying only to Indiana schools, these are the colleges that require the Common App and its essay: Butler, DePauw, Earlham, Goshen, Hanover, Manchester, Purdue, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Saint Mary’s, University of Evansville, University of Indianapolis, Notre Dame, Valparaiso and Wabash.

Keep in mind that in addition to completing the Common App, you may also be required to complete a supplemental application — housed within the Common App itself — by the individual college that wants to know more about you, such as what you might contribute to their academic and social community and whether or not you are a good fit for the school. Often, they ask for much of this information via more essays, personal statements, and/or answers to specific questions.

The best way to get started on developing content for these essays? Choose a couple of the Common App essay prompts and begin “free writing.” Stream-of-consciousness writing — sort of like writing in a journal — to one or more of these prompts can really get juices flowing, memories popping and ideas swarming.

At this early stage, don’t worry about perfection. Worry about content, authenticity and recognizing yourself as an individual aside from your family, friends and teachers. Colleges want to know who you are, not who you’ve been told to be. They want to see maturity and identity.

Free-writing can help you draw yourself out into the open, all your secret hopes and dreams for your life.

It saddens me when a student — and frankly, it’s many students — feels a need to hide who they are and what they want to study because someone in their life with little understanding of college and career pathways and potential outcomes has belittled it.

The truth is that the earlier a student can robustly identify and explore interests, academics and careers, the less time and money is wasted on years of college that are expensive and outcomes that are unfulfilling.

So if you haven’t begun this exploration yet, it’s not too late to get started. All of this mental activity will make subsequent essay writing for applications and scholarships much less stressful.

Here are the Common App essay prompts for the 2016-2017 application cycle:

•Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

•The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

•Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

•Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

•Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, which marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.

So get started and let it flow.

Got questions? Hit me up at or 812-219-6001.

Brown County resident Patricia Krahnke is president of Global College Search Associates. She is a former assistant director of admissions at Rutgers University and former dean of admissions and marketing with the Vermont state colleges. She can be reached through