College Essay – The Time is Now!

For College-Bound Seniors

In terms of its importance, the essay can be the difference between your child’s application landing in the acceptance pile or landing in the rejection pile, so it’s well worth spending time on.

That said, I don’t believe your child needs to read books on essay writing or scour through piles of stellar examples. That can be intimidating and ultimately unproductive.

There are, however, a few things to keep in mind…

First of all, set a timeframe and deadline that you and your child can agree on.  This reduces the likelihood of it going on forever and hanging over everyone’s heads for weeks and weeks.  Since The Common Application goes live August 1st, and since some schools will require supplemental essays, the next two weeks is a good time to complete the main essay and have that out of the way.

For many, the hardest part is just getting started. To help get things going, you might suggest that your child set a timer for 10 minutes and brainstorm ideas. Then he can pick the best three ideas and jot down a quick outline for each to make sure there is enough substance to make it compelling. Then pick the best one and start writing, not worrying about grammar, spelling and sentence structure (yet).

Keep in mind as well that the essay will get better with subsequent rewrites. I often find a compelling sentence somewhere in the student’s draft and have them try again, starting with that sentence. The student should be telling a story that only she could tell and it should allow the reader to get to know her better. Remember, the goal is to get the weary admissions counselor to hang in there and read the entire essay (they don’t always!)

A few more Do’s and Don’ts…

Hook the reader with the opening line
Be yourself, be informal
Reveal what makes you special
Use humor (but only if you are funny)
Show why you would add to the campus
Keep it short – 500 word limit
Print your essay and read it aloud

Brag, complain or apologize
List your activities/accomplishments
Write about world peace, poverty, or other common global issues
Write anything offensive
Address the topic without revealing things about yourself
Use clichés or SAT-type big words
Send your first draft as the final essay

One final thing.  As parents, we can certainly help with proofreading or brainstorming of ideas. That’s fine. But no one should do any of the actual writing except for your student. An admissions counselor can always tell when an adult has been a bit too helpful!

Common Application Prompts
The Common Application site can’t be accessed again until August 1st.  In the meantime, here are the essay prompts that the site provides:

  • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have
  • Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you
  • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence
  • Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence
  • A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you
  • Topic of your choice

Comments are closed.