Starting early buys you the luxury of revising and rewriting the essay. You can write it, put it away for a few days, then take a fresh look at it later. Walking away and then coming back brings a fresh perspective to the work -- without the pressure and stress that comes with a time crunch.
Many colleges ask applicants to describe a special interest, an experience that changed their life, or a person who influenced them. An essay on why you participated in the extra-curricular activities you chose in school, as well as what you learned from those choices, can be an excellent topic. List a number of essay topics and then add some key points for each one. Decide which topic has the most potential; your topic should be something that you feel strongly about so that it really comes alive as you write.
Use the brainstorming process. Make a list of all the ideas you want to include; don't rule anything out. List everything you can think of. Then go back over the list and check off or circle the major points you want to cover.
Think of the myriad of different ways to begin. There are many approaches that can be used. Warm up by using a meaningful quote or definition. Starting off with a rhetorical question that fits your situation is also a good way to get started. You might open your essay with a detailed description of the setting of an important experience you've had so that readers feel they were really there. Pick the opener that best draws the reader in with an unusual, entertaining, or thoughtful hook.
Use the outline you created to address each of your key points--as if you were having a conversation with someone. Try to be personal; add humor. Concentrate on content, use descriptive language, and give clear examples. Imagine that you're talking to a close friend when writing your essay. This technique should help the real you shine through. Remember, a rough draft doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be a start.
This time use a more critical eye. Is the essay interesting and well organized? Does it give a good picture of who you are? If it isn't as interesting as you'd like, add more examples and details. Read your essay out loud to see if the essay flows. Make sure you're writing about yourself, not the person you imagine the admissions counselor will find interesting.
Writing the essay the first time is hard enough, but taking time to write another draft is well worth the effort. Show your essay to an adult, or anyone who can give you an honest critique. Read your essay to your parents. Other people can often tell if there isn't enough being revealed, whether the essay rambles, or if the humor is falling flat.
While we covered a lot about content, this time really look at the mechanics of the essay. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure, style, and tone all count. Double check everything so that nothing detracts from the finished product.
When it comes to proofreading, don't do it alone. Ask someone else to read your essay. Spell check programs on computers can only go so far in ensuring that everything is correct.
Is the essay clean? Is the typing, printing, and handwriting clear? Make sure your name and social security number is on the essay so that if it's separated from the application, it can quickly be matched up again. Pretend that you are reading the essay for the first time. Does it make the impression you want it to?