Six Tips for Polishing Up the College Application Essay Over Winter Break

By Huntington Learning Center

With many colleges’ regular decision applications due between January 1 and February 1, holiday break for high school seniors is a good time to put any finishing touches on the college application package—including the essay. CEO and Co-Founder Eileen Huntington of Huntington Learning Center reminds parents that whether the colleges to which their teens are applying require an essay or strongly encourage one—or their teens have chosen to write essays to strengthen their overall application—it is best to take a methodical approach to the writing process. “The application essay gives admissions officers a glimpse of your teen as a student and person and tells them a lot about his or her goals, work ethic, character and more,” Huntington says. “A well-planned, well-thought-out essay can have a tremendously positive impact.”

She offers these six tips for teens working on creating a strong essay over winter break:

  1. Read the directions (more than once). It’s critical that teens pay careful attention to any guidelines provided for their application essays, including a suggested word count and a precise essay prompt. Disregarding these instructions can make applicants seem lazy. At worst, it might immediately discredit their application and hurt their chances of acceptance.
  2. Brainstorm and compare possible topics. The essay is an opportunity for teens to share who they really are. It’s a good idea to give sufficient time to the brainstorming process to ensure that whatever the prompt, the topic a teen selects does the best possible job addressing it.
  3. Outline first. The application essay is not the place to wing it. Teens should create a detailed outline to keep them focused and make sure the essay flows easily from beginning to end. The outline should clearly tie back to the essay prompt and make clear how the essay will fully answer it.
  4. Create a schedule. It takes time to craft a great essay. A schedule can keep things on track. Here’s an example schedule for a student starting their essay over winter break with an application deadline of February 1 (note: obviously the earlier teens can start their essays the better, and students applying to colleges with regular application deadlines of December 1 will not be able to work on their essays over winter break):
    Outline essay according to directions December 16
    Complete first draft December 18
    Set essay aside December 19
    Edit December 20-22
    Complete second draft December 23
    Set essay aside December 24-26
    Edit December 27-28
    Complete third draft December 29
    Set essay aside December 30
    Share essay with parent or trusted mentor December 31-January 7
    Share draft with a teacher or counselor January 7
    Get suggestions back from teacher/counselor January 11
    Make final revisions January 12-14
    Proof and read through January 19
    Essay due to college January 30
  5. Write from the heart. When it comes to the application essay, there’s nothing more frustrating to an admissions officer than reading words that don’t ring true. Colleges are looking for applicants who are passionate and articulate when sharing something that has changed or impacted them in a significant way. Bottom line: teens should be real and authentic in their essays and forget about trying to impress anyone.
  6. Plan on rewriting. Yes, proofreading for grammatical errors and typos is an important step, but it should be the very last step. First, teens must allow themselves time to revisit drafts with fresh eyes and take a hard, honest look at their essays when editing. This means making sure the essay is clear not confusing, not too long or short, and achieves the desired tone and message. It also means making sure the essay is poignant, interesting from the very first sentence, and articulate, and that it sounds like the person writing it. Practice makes better. Teens should write, revise, and repeat as much as needed.

Putting the effort into the application essay is certain to be time well spent—and it could mean the difference between a college acceptance and rejection. “Parents and teens need to remember that admissions officers want to get to know the person behind the name on an application,” Huntington says. “Teens should give the essay the careful attention it deserves.”

About Huntington

Huntington is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams.  Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards.  Founded in 1977, Huntington’s mission is to give every student the best education possible.  Learn how Huntington can help at For franchise opportunities please visit  

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