Ask These 5 Questions to Improve Your Student’s College Application Essays

College Application Essay

Ask These 5 Questions to Improve Your Student’s College Application Essays

Published December 22, 2017 | Last Updated April 29th, 2024 at 06:54 am

College Application Essay

It’s tough being both parent and editor.

On one hand you want to review your child’s essays with an editor’s eye, and on the other hand, you don’t want to second-guess them and ruin their spirit.

You’ve probably told them hundreds of times to start early so they have time to revise.

But, too often, that advice “does not compute” with the typical teen.

Regardless of whether your student is working on their essays at a leisurely pace…or even cramming to finish up his or her essays, we thought you (and your student) could use advice from essay experts who review thousands of college essays each year.

Questions to Improve Your Student’s College Application Essays

Road2College essay coaches have 5 simple questions they recommend you use when reviewing your student’s essays.

These are the same questions Prompt’s Essay Specialists answer for the thousands of college essays they review.

They’ve helped students get into every top university and earn millions in scholarships.

Give these questions a whirl as you’re reviewing your student’s college application essay:

What Did You Learn About the Student?

The 1-2 sentence answer to this question is effectively what college admissions officers will walk away with understanding about your student.

Ideally, that means understanding who your student is and how he or she thinks.

Discussing the answer to this question with your student will generate a great conversation and help your student think through the message he or she is trying to convey to his or her readers.

Is the Content Compelling?

Colleges are looking for students who have “spikes” in different areas as they build out a well-rounded class.

As such, a compelling essay covers the student’s interests and experiences that set him or her apart from other applicants.

Road2College finds personal statements (e.g., the Common App Essay) are most impactful and compelling when they cover a student’s times of personal growth, passions, personality traits, and goals for the future.

If your student has already written their personal statement essay, see if the two of you can identify most of these elements in their personal statement essay and across the application.

What Didn’t I Learn That I Wanted to Learn?

What you didn’t learn from reading the essay is often referred to as the “unanswered questions.”

These are the things that pop into a reader’s mind but are never answered in the essay.

Unfortunately, the most critical questions often go unanswered.

The three questions that go unanswered most frequently are (1) “What did your student do differently as a result of this experience? (2) How did this experience or interest shift your student’s view of herself or others? (3) How do these experiences relate to your student’s future goals?

Is the Essay Well Structured?

Your student’s goal is to place his or her reader in the “accept” mindset from the beginning of the essay.

This means two things:

(1) start with a few gripping intro sentences.

It’s difficult to pull a reader out of the “reject” mindset once he or she is in it.

(2) Make sure the reader understands where your student is headed at each point in the essay.

Here are two quick improvements your student can make to his or her structure:

  • Start the essay in scene with the climax of the critical story
  • Provide the answer to the college essay prompt within the introduction

Road2College finds the best way to help students with structure is to craft an example outline for your student, taking into account the “accept” mindset, compelling content, and answering the “unanswered questions.”

What Are the Tactical Next Steps for Improving the Essay?

Be clear about what your student needs to go and do.

Sometimes this means overhauling the content or structure in a significant way.

The key is to be clear and up front with your student.

In addition, be tactful!

Remember, it IS their essay, and being too critical will be counter-productive.

Using this 5-question approach will help your student create a compelling essay and remove some of the pre-application deadline stress.

Some additional essay-writing tips:

College Essay Examples That Worked and Why

If you want feedback and editing help from top professional writers, check out our Road2College Essay Coaching Package.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

👉 Looking for expert help on the road to college? See our Preferred Partner List!

Other Articles You Might Like:

I Watched My Average Student Get Into College Against All Odds

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