The rapid increase in stress levels at homes with a high school senior can only mean one thing – the student is applying to college. First there is the challenge of compiling the perfect list of schools that suits the student’s academic dreams and the parents’ financial situation. Then there is the struggle with filing the FAFSA or CSS/PROFILE to learn if each school really is within financial reach. The student has to request letters of recommendation, complete the Common App or school application, and satisfy other requirements.
Just when you think you’re out of the woods, it is time to write the dreaded college application essay. Parents hover anxiously over their students, willing them to be creative and grammatically correct, while students sit there daydreaming about everything else they would rather be doing. There is a great deal of crying and complaining on both sides but somewhere along the line a compromise is made, a topic finalized, and words start to flow out onto the page.
It feels like there is so much pressure because this is the one application area where students really get to show their own personality, albeit in an essay of between 250-650 words. To ease family tensions a little, here are some tips to help parents and students when it comes time to write the dreaded college essays:
• Get knowledge first: Before setting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, take some quiet time to map out your colleges’ specific essay requirements. Each college can be different, so you want to be sure your student provides exactly what is needed. Then take some time to look at the Common App essay prompts. This should help get the creative juices flowing.
• Brainstorm together: Look at each essay prompt and calmly brainstorm some ideas. Don’t dictate, but simply provide your student with ideas that can be used, reminders of past activities that could be appropriate, or quiet support of his/her best qualities. Then leave your student alone to ponder these options and decide on a direction.
• Let the writing begin: Give your student some breathing space to begin the creative process. This is their application, not yours. If you are asked for help, provide it in a non-judgmental or controlling manner. Provide your honest opinions, but don’t demand that your student write in a set manner.
• Outside review: While parents can offer pointers on technical and grammatical points, it is best to have an outsider review the essays to determine their ability to clearly present your student’s case. Look for a trusted teacher, relative, or adult friend who can provide an honest opinion that won’t touch on family drama topics.
Finally, take one last look for typos before sending the application off to its destiny. With a calm and calculated approach to essay writing, there should be a lot less stress and a lot more success.