Don’t Let College Applications Ruin Thanksgiving

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

The clock is ticking for students applying to college for next fall as the regular admission deadlines loom.

Are your child’s essays stressing you out? Are they done? Do the essays you’ve already read look messy? Or is something missing from the story?

We don’t want your child’s college applications to ruin Thanksgiving. We’d prefer to give you some peace of mind. That’s why we’re going to share some tips so you can help your college-bound son or daughter master the college essay, which is arguably the most daunting task of the application process.

The first and most important tip: Make sure you understand why students are being asked to write essays, and know what you can do, as well as what you should not do, to help! At its core, the college essay is all about reflection.

We talk to admissions officers all the time, and they say they use the essays to:

• Find out something that is meaningful to the student and is not apparent in the rest of the application package.
• Gain insight into an applicant’s character.
• See if the student is a good fit for the university.

“There’s a misconception about what we do inside the admissions office,” cautioned Calvin Wise, Johns Hopkins University’s Director of Recruitment. “We are trying to predict future potential. We need to dig deeper where the essay comes into play. That’s where we find out more about the student.”

The admissions essay is an opportunity to support the student’s application – to help a student show who he or she is. It is a chance to speak directly to the admissions office.
Make sure those essays are written by the student. Wise (and every admissions officer we’ve ever asked) says he can tell when essays are over-edited or written by someone else.

Christoph Guttentag, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions for Duke University has similar advice. He told us he would love to see more personal statements that are authentic.

“By the time the application comes to us, many of them have gone through so many hands that the essays are sanitized,” Guttentag said. “I wish I saw more of a thoughtful voice of a 17 year-old.”

Your role is critical. You can help your child reflect so that they are prepared to write a thoughtful answer to any type of essay prompt. When you read your child’s essay, or when you try and help your son or daughter come up with a topic, remember that they should not start with a preconceived notion of where they will end up.

Students can have a vision and ideas, but they need to be willing to be surprised and open to ending up somewhere they didn’t expect. Allow yourself to be surprised, too.

How do you do that? Set expectations. Help your child present the best possible version of himself, not a vision you imagine. Let your child take the lead. Be supportive and positive, but don’t suggest topics or tell your child which words to use.

Ask yourself:

• What is the real goal of this process?
• Am I too invested in helping my child create a beautiful essay?
• What message am I sending my child by making suggestions and changes?

Next, make sure your voice does not show up in the essay. Leave it alone. Drop the word “editing” from your vocabulary. You are a reviewer, not an editor. This is a challenging distinction. It involves sitting on your hands and hiding your red pens.

You can learn more about how to teach reflection in our new book, “How to Write an Effective College Application Essay – The Inside Scoop for Parents” (9.99, Amazon). All you need is the free Kindle app; buy the guide, then download it to your favorite electronic reading device.

Would you rather get a professional review? Wow can take the writing task off your plate. We’ll give your child’s essay a professional review to make sure it is ready to submit. We know how to help untangle that messy essay. We can work with your child no matter where they are in the process.

Have a peaceful Thanksgiving.