Help Your Child Without Taking Over the College Essay

Parents often ask us, “Isn’t there a fine line between editing your child’s essay and writing it for her?”

It’s a common dilemma, especially for parents who would do anything to help their children get into the schools of their dreams. We all want our children to succeed; college is critically important. But the truth is, you should not heavily edit your child’s application essays, and you most definitely should not write them yourself.

So how can parents be helpful without crossing the line?

  • Offer encouragement. In this case, you are more cheerleader than coach. No one knows your child better than you. Encourage her to express herself in her own voice, in her own words. Yes, she really can do this. And she can do it well.
  • Be realistic. An essay should be well-written, but it should sound like it was composed by a high school student. Admissions officers can tell the difference between a heartfelt, well-crafted essay and a submission that is so highly-polished it sounds flat.
  • Get a head start. For many students, the essay is the hardest part of the college application process. The fall of senior year is a stressful, exciting time, not necessarily the best environment for students to sit quietly and write about themselves. Start in the summer, as soon as the essay prompts become available.
  • Read, but don’t criticize. Read drafts and offer your opinion, but don’t go too far. Ask clarifying questions. Engage in a conversation with your child to figure out what he is trying to say about himself. Save the editor’s pencil for misspelled words and grammatical errors.

No matter what the prompt, the essay is not about the job, the vacation, the illness, the book or the influential person; it is about the student – what he or she learned, gained or realized as a result of the experience. As a parent, you can help the most by keeping your child focused on the essay’s purpose.

It can be hard to write about oneself, especially when it really matters. We get that. That’s why we teach our students how to write their essays, using a straightforward, 10-step process. We help kids find their voices. They leave our workshops feeling empowered, confident in their own abilities, certain of their words.

Picture of David Bersell

David Bersell

David Bersell is a Senior Writing Coach with Wow Writing Workshop. Patient, curious and kind, David loves guiding students through the Wow Method so they can share who they are through writing. David lives in Jonesboro, Arkansas; he is a voracious reader and writer, and in his spare time, he consumes large amounts of pop culture. Before joining Wow, David taught English at Leadership Prep Bedford Stuyvesant Middle Academy and creative writing with Nashville’s A Novel Idea and the University of Maine Farmington’s Longfellow Young Writer’s workshop. His stories and essays has appeared in many print and online publications, including The Rumpus, Hobart, and Carolina Quarterly. David also attended the Tin House Summer Workshop as a nonfiction scholar. He holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maine Farmington and an MFA in Writing from the University of New Hampshire.
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