By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop
As your child starts to wrap up their college applications to meet the Nov. 1 deadline, they may ask you, “Is my essay good?”
How will you know?
In its simplest form, a good personal statement will have a theme that answers these two questions:
1) What happened?
2) Why does it matter?
Many other types of application essays, such as the Why College X? prompt, activity, creative or community essays, can be judged by these criteria as well. While the story will naturally take center stage, readers should also know why the writer chose to share it.
Admissions officers will not get excited over a piece of writing that beautifully details an experience, then adds a generic sentence at the end, stating that the writer learned something significant. Nor will they enjoy a five-paragraph essay with an introduction, thesis statement, supporting paragraphs and a conclusion. For college admission, the story needs no introduction or conclusion.
You can search the Internet for the “best” ideas, or read samples, but it won’t help. There is no best idea, shortcut or structure to imitate for the college essay. The best essays emerge from the writing and thinking process; they answer the question, show some insight and illustrate a positive trait about the applicant.
A few years ago, one of our students illustrated his determination with a simple story about memorizing the parts of the gastrointestinal intestinal tract to ace his anatomy final. Another girl wrote about finding her passion for nature in a community garden while pulling weeds. A boy with an autism spectrum disorder blew us away with a powerful story about his problem-solving skills. He forgot his cello for an orchestra concert and improvised his performance with a bass guitar. His story impressed admissions officers at his top-choice school, and the admission letter even praised the essay.
While these stories were beautiful, none was perfect. The college essay is not about perfection. Not even the most selective colleges expect brilliant prose from a teenage applicant. They know they are dealing with kids, so they often will cut applicants some slack. At the same time, they don’t appreciate students throwing together sloppy essays the night before the deadline. They want to see some effort and a healthy respect for the rules of written English.
The essay is the best place to show colleges who your child is. We encourage every student to reflect and honor their voice so they can confidently share their stories.
It’s hard for students to write about themselves, especially when the stakes seem so high. But handled properly, college essays can make or break any application package. As a bonus, writing them can leave students feeling empowered, confident in their abilities and certain of their words.
Would you like to make sure your child’s essay is effective? Is their theme clear? Does the essay illustrate what they want colleges to know? Before your child clicks send on that application, find out if they’ve hit the mark with a professional review from a Wow Writing Coach.
This article comes from Chapter 1 of Wow’s popular book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents. Have you read it yet?