Thanks for joining us as we continue with Staying Sane through the College Essay Writing Process, an ongoing series that offers college applicants and their parents advice on how to stay on track for completing Ivy-worthy essays…without flying off the handle. Enjoy this next part of the series, and STAY SANE!
Why students think the college application essay is hard to write:
- You have to talk about yourself.
- You have to make a good impression.
- You have to look into your experience to show something important about yourself when you don’t necessarily think what is important about you will impress college admissions committees.
- You don’t honestly think you know enough about yourself and the world (isn’t that why you are going to college?) to write convincingly.
- You haven’t had much writing experience that calls for assessing your personal experience to make a point about your abilities and interests.
Why parents have trouble helping their kids with the college application essay writing process:
- They focus on the competitive nature of college admissions and are so quick to judge their kids’ writing that they don’t nourish the spark of individuality that is in early drafts.
- Focusing on the looming deadlines, they are quick to judge their kids as terribly behind in completing the applications, and kids don’t listen to the resulting nagging.
- They think they know the right story to tell and want their kids to tell the one they think is best.
- They think they are better writers than their kids and correct drafts, making them sound too adult and often too general, and alienate their kids, who feel their experience is being falsified.
- They do not know the writing process themselves and, feeling incompetent as writers, they worry, worry, worry about how their kids will ever write the essay. Kids don’t respond enthusiastically to worry. Or nagging. Or corruption of their story.
Why it’s hard for kids to have their parents help:
- They understand their experiences differently than their parents do.
- They feel that by putting their experiences and thinking on the page, they may fail their parents if their parents don’t find enough in the experiences to please them.
- Kids begin feeling their parents think they know the kids better than the kids know themselves. Therefore, having parents as a first audience can short circuit the kids’ own way of thinking things through.
- There may be disagreement about which schools students should apply to.
What everyone can do to be more effective and get the essay done and done well:
- Have a family meeting in which students and parents honestly state their needs, fears, and understanding of the task ahead. If parents and students don’t concur on the appropriateness of some of the colleges chosen, agree to put forward reasons pro and con, just so they are heard.
- Write down everyone’s suggestions about how to get through the weeks ahead and accomplish the task of writing for the college application essay. Really listen to the suggestions and don’t pooh pooh any of them.
- Parents listen to students state what help they most need. If parents and students decide someone else’s help might work better, brainstorm names of those who might offer help, including services experienced in coaching students to write the application essay.
- If parents and/or students are worried about getting the application and writing tasks done on time despite a myriad of activities, spend some time discussing the chosen colleges’ application requirements, agreeing to and writing down a timeline, and proposing other sources of help — books, professional college admissions counselors, relatives and neighbors who write well or are easy to talk with, as well as reputable editing services that work with high school kids, honoring their abilities to write and coaching them one-on-one.
- Become more effective by discussing ahead of time why waiting until the last minute is not a good idea, why parents bugging offspring to finish the essay is not a good idea, and why kids not communicating their progress to their parents is also not a good idea. Discuss what sort of system can be put in place to emphasize writing time, complete the essay, and handle privacy issues during the drafting process.
- Be sure to designate some sort of celebration or reward to honor the finish of each application.
And students, remember that physical exercise can be a great way to think of good writing ideas or clear your mind so you can continue the writing process. Keeping a pad and pencil by your bed means you can jot ideas down if they come to you in a dream or upon waking before your mind has taken on the day. Parents — don’t quiz your kids on whether they have gotten any new ideas when they wake up or have come in from shooting baskets! Ideas need time to gel. They often flee when talked about too soon.
By Sheila Bender, former Accepted.com editor and founder of Writing it Real, a “community and resource center for writing from personal experience.”