The college admissions process isn’t easy…for anyone. Parents look at their kids and think, “You think this is hard on you? Just imagine what we’re going through, thinking about application deadlines, our hopes and dreams for you, and paying for college,” while kids glare at their parents thinking, “I don’t know why you’re so stressed out. You’re not ones who have to take the SAT, write these detailed essays, and compete against their friends for coveted Ivy League spots!”
Sigh. The grass is always greener on the other side.
Our upcoming blog series, Write Great College Application Essays and Stay Sane, will help college applicants and their parents stay on track for completing Ivy-worthy essays…without flying off the handle. Over the course of this series, you’ll learn tips for easing essay anxiety, get advice on how to choose compelling essay topics, and acquire insights into the essay writing process, beginning to end.
Enjoy our new series, and STAY SANE!
When a family’s high school student must write the college application essay, the pressure is on everyone. Parents worry that their teenagers aren’t sitting down soon enough to write a really good essay. They worry their students sound too modest, too revealing, or too silly or simple. Often, students don’t believe they have anything interesting to say, let alone to faceless people who will be judging them. They haven’t lived long enough to have figured out the significance of their experiences, even if they want to write about them, and having their parents or teachers tell them the significance is the last thing in the world they want to have happen. Students worry about how to present themselves on the page in a way that sounds real and like them, and often feel that when adults help, the wording and ideas just don’t sound right. Additionally, they have full academic schedules and numerous extracurricular activities, making it easier to procrastinate than find the time and emotional space to sit down and begin discovering what it is they have to say to college admissions committees.
Here’s the good news: Whether the students have three months, three weeks, or three days to complete the essay (and I’d vote for the three months, but some decisions are made late, and inspiration sometimes needs a tight deadline), there is a process that can help them enjoy writing their personal statement, as well as aid them to learn about themselves and grow as individuals — something that really does prepare them for college. And the process defines a clear and useful role for parents’ and/or other adult help.
The overall steps to the process are:
- After students know what schools they will be applying to, they should visit each school website, download any school-specific application essay questions, and find the common application essay questions to choose from. Note that some schools also require a supplemental essay.
- Play with images, words, memories and writing strategies, and then do a freewrite of whatever comes to mind. This means setting fingers to the keyboard or pen to paper and just writing without thinking, censoring, or deliberating. In freewriting, writers get ideas down and go wherever their thoughts, memories, and images take them.
- Put that writing away.
- Let trusted adults listen to you read the freewrites. (If the material or situation is too sensitive for parents’ to hear at this time, let parents help figure out who might be a good choice as listener among colleagues, relatives, friends, and teachers. Keep parents informed about approaching these potential critics for their listening skills and about your own schedule in sticking to the steps this book suggests.)
- From others’ and your own response to hearing yourself read in front of an audience even of one, identify where your energy, honesty, and interest lie in the earliest freewrites.
- Write that story using the process this book puts forward.
The sub-steps include: using the pre-writing strategies of brainstorming and clustering; identifying patterns of thinking; learning to trust images, details and specifics; asking for responses from readers to learn which words stick, what feelings are evoked, and where the reader is curious; and revising, revising, revising.
By Sheila Bender, former Accepted.com editor and founder of Writing it Real, a “community and resource center for writing from personal experience.”
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