But aside from advice on what you should be doing, let's go through a few things that you should avoid:
Forgetting the word count: I've received more essays I can count where students did not consider the word count. In one essay, a student even wrote 1,000+ words for an essay with a limit of 250 words. Please don't do that. It takes you longer to write and me longer to review. Bold and highlight the word count for all your college and summer program essays at the *top* of your draft along with the prompt. These two pieces of information should always be your guiding light as you write.
Not actually answering the prompt: This is probably the biggest and #1 mistake I've seen students make. Don't just read the prompt. Copy and paste it to the top of your draft. Break down the questions into chunks and be sure to answer each part.
For example, one Common App prompt is this: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? This is a LONG prompt and asks you to answer MANY questions, not just one. Break this prompt down into the specific points you will need to address: (1) describe the obstacle, (2) describe how it affected you, (3) share what you learned. Too often, I see a student answering (1) and (2) but forgetting to address (3). Don't do that. Be sure you answer all the questions a prompt is asking. Pro Tip: To make your essay even stronger, add a 4th point: (4) describe how this lesson makes you a stronger and better student who will succeed in college and beyond.
Starting the drafting process too late: An essay written by a stressed and rushed student will never be as good as the essay written by the same student with more time and less stress. It is never good to procrastinate, especially for college applications. You spent so much time and effort doing well in high school. You deserve to reflect that hard work as best as you can in your essay.
If you ever need more in-depth support with the college essay writing process, you can meet with me one-on-one. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or fill out the Contact Form on my website.