Scheduling doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve spent months on a single eight-page paper, and I’ve written a term paper in the three hours before class (#regrets).
As you can imagine, neither of those are a great approach; if you take too long to write a paper, it eats away at the time you spend on other assignments. If you rush it, it’s not going to be as good as it could be. In both cases, I could have benefitted from a good college essay timeline. And if you’re struggling to finish your essays in the right about of time, I’m willing to bet that you could, too.
An essay timeline sets a series of mini deadlines before you have to turn your paper in. By blocking out when your research needs to be done or when you need to be halfway through your paper, you’ll be able to keep yourself accountable as you write. This one trick has made it so much easier for me to meet my essay deadlines.
Making an essay timeline doesn’t need to be a hassle. Below are three ways to schedule writing your college essay. Each is best for a different amount of time before your deadline, so whether you’ve got months or just a night, we have you covered. This post also comes with a free timeline printable to help you plan out your essay timeline! You can access the printable in our free Resource Library, which is password-protected; to get the password, subscribe to our mailing list!
A Note on These Guidelines
Remember that these are just guidelines — nothing more. When making a schedule for studying or an assignment, it’s important to always be flexible. These different options aren’t hard and fast rules; just rough guides that I’ve picked up from my years in college. Use them as rough guides for when you should have what done, and adjust them to your needs and work habits!
College Essay Timeline 1: When You Have Two Weeks or More
Congrats! With two weeks or more to go, you have plenty of time in your college paper schedule to make something great. Here’s the formula I use for writing a paper in two weeks or more.
Use about a fourth to a third of your time to do research and planning. If you’re writing a research paper, lean towards using a third of you time for this. If it’s an opinion editorial or a paper that requires less research, a fourth or less is fine.
Subtract a day for editing at the end. Use the last day of your time to edit the paper and clean up any small mistakes. If you don’t edit as you go, save two to three days for this.
Break up your paper into the days you have left. For example, if you have 10 days left over for a 10-page paper, write one page per day — easy!
So let’s say you have two weeks exactly to write a 12-page research paper. Take four days at the beginning to do research for your paper and make an outline. Then write about one-and-a-third pages every day until the last day, which you can use to edit.
College Essay Timeline 2: When You Have About a Week
So you have a week to write your paper. You’re in good company! Most students don’t start their papers until the few days before it’s due. Here’s a good sample formula to use:
Take two days in the beginning for research and planning, and about a half a day at the end for editing. Divide the number of pages in your paper by the days in between.
So, for an eight-page paper, use the first day and a half to prepare, then take five days to write the eight pages of the paper, and use the last half a day to edit.
College Essay Timeline 3: When You Have 48 Hours or Less
So you waited ‘til the last minute. With two days or less, you can still crank out a good paper, though you’ll have to spend most of your time working on getting it done. I find that when I have very little time left to write my paper, it helps to have a very thorough outline and then just write my paper in one go. So I spend the first day just doing research and making a very thorough outline, and then I spend the next day just writing straight through until the deadline.
Using these sample timelines as a rough guide for how to schedule your paper gives you mini “deadlines” until you actually need to turn your paper in, which in turn makes you more productive.