"Stop procrastinating!" Whether you're muttering that command under your breath or sharing it for everyone to hear, you know that postponing the inevitable is a favorite teen pastime.

Is your child actually cleaning his room to avoid writing his college essays? It's human nature to shy away from grappling with whatever challenges us, but there comes a time when we all need to just get it done.

Here are tips for students on managing college essay procrastination:

*Understand why you are putting off writing the essay. Are you afraid of failing at the task? Have you truly challenged yourself to brainstorm an essay topic that allows you to share who you are and what distinguishes you from other students? Are you nervous writing this type of essay because the stakes are so high? Are you a perfectionist and only willing to begin working after every little element is in place? Do you find yourself easily distracted?

I wish I could tell you to lighten up, and that the essay isn't important. But the essay can be a tie-breaker when students present similar grades and test scores.

Try looking at the essay as an opportunity to inform the admissions officers about another side of who you are that hasn't been presented in other parts of the application.

*Eliminate distractions: Create a work space that is conducive to creativity and minimizes interruptions. That means no cell phones, no television or anything that will disturb your focus.

Break up this ominous assignment into several smaller pieces: Complete a self-assessment (what are my strengths? What do I want to share? How am I different? How will I contribute?) Tackle each piece separately. See what common threads there are in your responses and weave a story together that encompasses these items.

*Set realistic deadlines for completion: For instance, commit to brainstorming responses to three topics in one sitting. Then try writing up the best anecdote or story you came up with.

Don't censor at first: Typically the writing will come much more easily if you've completed the advance legwork and feel confident in your essay topic. Don't edit until you feel you've completed a solid first draft. I often tell students to "dump" everything into the first pass. Follow your stream of consciousness, and let the essay take shape itself. Don't worry about paragraph transitions and grammar now. It is more important to get the guts of the essay down on paper. Editing is a completely different task.

*Reward yourself: The essay is the heavy-lifting of the college application. If you've put in some serious time working on your essay, take a break. No, that doesn't mean jotting down some ideas and then watching the entire football game. You will know if you deserve a reward.

*Enlist others to help: Parents, siblings and grandparents are great for brainstorming essay topics because they each know you in different ways. Ask them "What makes me funny? Why would I be a good roommate? What are three adjectives that you would use to describe me?"

Additionally, these same people are the ones you can count on to keep you accountable and be your best cheerleaders.


Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit