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The Secret to College Essays: Write Early and Often

Atttention, high school seniors! It might seem like the end of November is practically light years away, but those college applications will be due sooner than you think, and there's a lot more to them than just GPAs and letters of recommendation. Will you be prepared, or will you be wearing your hands down to the bone typing up last-minute essays in a race to beat the clock? It might seem like a good idea at the time -- who wants to write essays when you could be enjoying your last weekends of summer? -- but it's a plan that could come back to haunt you in a few months' time.

Just ask New York Times guest columnist Madeline Walter.

Today, Walter works as an essay editor and a writing coach, helping students across the country get into the colleges and universities of their dreams. It isn't a skill she developed overnight, however. In her guest column, she describes her own experience with college essay writing, and the necessity of practice (no matter how good you think your writing skills already are). It all started with Harvard and a blanket:

"I wrote my Harvard personal statement about 'Blanky,' the yellow baby blanket that still sits on my bed today. (Yes, today. Yes, I'm 24.) It seemed like the perfect topic. Blanky shows that I have a childlike vulnerability! Blanky has been with me through it all! Blanky is tattered but I love him more for those worn edges and that hole in the middle �� what a perfect metaphor for life!"

Upon re-reading her files, the college writing maven discovered the essay to be a little more lackluster than she remembered, for a variety of reasons ranging from overly-flowery prose to an awful lot of filler for a 500-word essay. The main problem: a topic she chose "because I thought it was a unique concept and a good metaphor, not because it was fun to write. And because it was boring to write, it was boring to read."

Of course, she bounced back from there to write a winning essay for Yale and find her way into the hearts of several colleges. But it took a lot of blanket essays, bumps in the road, and revisions to get there. Interested in making it past your high school diploma? Don't forget your college essays -- they are hard work to perfect, and the best time to get started is now.

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