How to Help Your Student with Their College Application Essays

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Supporting your student on their college application essays can be a daunting task.

You might be wondering: What are colleges looking for? What should my student write about? Does it need to be creative? How important are these essays anyways? Will my student even listen to me?

We’ve got you.

In this article and the accompanying 28-page Parent Guide to College Essays, you’ll learn the step-by-step process for working with your student on their essays.

This guide was developed by Prompt, a partner of ours that supports more students on more admissions essays than anyone in the world.

We suggest going through this guide before you start working with your student on their essays, but you’ll also find it valuable if your student already has a draft.

The key for you as a parent is to deeply understand the content, as we find many students struggle with finding the motivation to go through all the content notes and suggestions themselves. Alternatively, you may want to hire an essay coach like the ones at Prompt to guide your student; it can be cost-effective while saving you time and stress.

 

What Your Student Should Write About

The big question is “what are colleges looking for?” Thankfully, there’s a simple answer: 

To PROVE your student will be SUCCESSFUL in college and beyond.

To provide this “proof,” your student should write about one or more experiences that demonstrate one or more of the following key traits:

  • drive
  • intellectual curiosity
  • initiative
  • contribution
  • and diversity of experiences.

These five traits are the ones that admissions readers look for to determine if a student will succeed in college. Just instilling this mindset in your student will greatly improve their applications and essays.

 

Debunking Some College Essay Myths

The biggest myth is that college essays are hard. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

College essays should be easy. They’re meant to clearly and concisely deliver information to the reader about the student’s traits and experiences. 

Let’s debunk…

  • Your student doesn’t need to be creative.
  • Your student doesn’t need to use metaphors or analogies.
  • Your student shouldn’t use vocabulary words that are not part of their everyday lexicon.
  • Your student doesn’t need to tell a riveting narrative.
  • Your student doesn’t need to set a scene like they are writing a novel.
  • Your student doesn’t need to pontificate on their views of the world or give general philosophies on life.

College essays are simple.

All your student needs to do is guide what your reader is thinking at each point in the essay.

In other words, use direct language and short sentences to clearly identify what you’re saying. If you gave your student’s essay to 100 people, every single person should have the same response as to what the essay is about.

 

How to Provide Feedback on College Essay Drafts

Feedback is the most important part of the college essay process.

A first draft is never good enough to be the final draft – and it’s usually not even close. As such, you’ll find yourself spending hours providing feedback on essays – Prompt finds it takes 45-50 minutes to provide detailed feedback on just the first draft of a Common App Essay.

When reviewing a draft, you’ll want to answer three critical questions:

  1. What did you learn about the student?
  2. How can the content be made more compelling?
  3. How can the structure be improved?

Content is the most important thing to focus on – especially in first drafts.

You’ll want to ask yourself “what didn’t I learn that I wanted to learn?” This question will help you fill in missing content and make the essay significantly more compelling.

The most common unanswered question is “what actions did you take as a result of what you learned from this experience?” In other words, your student should provide proof that they have grown and changed from the experience they write about.

For structure, it’s often helpful to provide an example outline to show the student how to rearrange their content. This gives them a clear sense of what they need to do to improve their essay.

 

Wrapping Up

This has been a very quick overview; there’s a lot more to working with your student on their essays.

We suggest you download Prompt’s Parent Guide to College Essays (click here for the download link) for more details on how to support your student.

In addition, you may want to consider using an essay coach like the ones at Prompt. Essays are just as crucial as the SAT or ACT, so it’s important that your student gets the help they need to succeed.

Whatever you choose to do, the goal is ultimately the same – to help your student be confident in their essays!

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Road2College

Road2College

Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.
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