College Essays Take Time

Attractive Pensive Mixed Race Female Student with Pencil SittingThe college admissions game has gotten intense. Students take multiple standardized tests, rigorous classes, and fill their spare time with extracurricular activities. Yet, one of the hardest things they are required to do is write a personal essay. It is their one chance to “talk” to the admissions officer, thus there is a lot riding on that communication.

Because it is so important, many kids freeze. They don’t like to talk about themselves. They don’t know what admissions officers want. They don’t know where to start. Their parents and other well-meaning adults are unfortunately encouraging them to list all their activities via the essay. The writing process can go downhill quickly.

I try to help students maintain their sense of humor and originality by encouraging them to write on several topics in order to discover the best format for sharing their story. We eventually want the essay that only they can write. We want something in their own voice, something that communicates what is important to them. We need something that is engaging enough to pull the reader in. It is not an easy task.

Students will be required to write multiple essays, but the easiest place to start is the personal statement. Since many colleges use the Common Application, I have students start there. While the 2014-15 Common App will not be available until after August 1, we already know the main essay topics. Here are their instructions:

Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Remember, it will take awhile for your student to find their voice and hit their stride when writing a college essay. For that reason, I encourage kids to get all essays finished during the summer so they can take their time and get it right.

Need help? My digital class, “In Your Own Words: Harnessing the Power of the Personal Essay” is a good place to start. 

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Upcoming Live Classes:   Explaining Your Homeschool, Tues. August 19 

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