August 1st is a big date for rising seniors. It is the date a majority of college applications open, and it is also the date when both students (and their parents) realize they need to get serious about college application work, especially if the goal is to complete as much as possible before school starts.
As time passes, stress levels tend to rise, but stress (and procrastination) are detrimental to the self-reflection and vulnerability required in the college essay writing process. To keep the peace in your house and help students craft their best essays, here are my Rules for Students, Parents, and English Class Essay Work.
Be patient: Give your student time to work their essay before asking to see a draft. Wait until they are ready to share it.
Be sensitive: This process asks students to be vulnerable and to try to show who they think they are to strangers. Give them space and time to find both their story and their voice.
Be mindful: Maybe the topic is not the one you think they should be writing about but ask yourself if it highlights something unique and wonderful about them. Here is a great article explaining why sometimes the best college essays are often about topics parents do not like.
Things to do to support your student:
- Ask them what they want colleges to know about them. See if you find examples of these qualities in the essay.
- Find grammatical errors
- Encourage them to self-reflect on what they care about in the world, who they inspire to be, and what makes them who they are.
- Praise your student for being brave, creative, funny, or insightful enough to tell their story.
- If you really need something (college-related) to do, search for private scholarships for your student!
- Be mindful: You do not have to share your essay with anyone you do not want to, and in fact, sharing your essay with too many people can lead to an essay being over-edited, stripping the essay of your voice.
- Be patient: This is a long process, and you won’t get it right the 1st (or 2nd or 3rd) time. Learning how to write (and rewrite) college essays takes time.
- Carve out time: You will need to write even when you don’t feel like it, but once you complete your first essay, the rest will come easier.
- Read for inspiration: Read books from your favorite author to learn how to write descriptively and hook a reader. If you read other college essays, do so only for ideas of how different and creative they can be, not to copy them or get distracted by a cute or creative topic.
- Ask questions: What do colleges already know about you from your activities, your transcript, and will likely hear from your letters of recommendation? What else should they know about who you are, how you think, how you challenge yourself, what you have overcome, what you do when no one is watching, and what is important to you? That is the whole purpose of the college essay!