Don’t Ruin Thanksgiving? Untangle that Messy Essay Before Admissions Deadlines

By Kim Lifton
Wow President

Get those college essays done; survive!
Untangle that Messy Essay

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

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

We don’t want your college application journey to ruin Thanksgiving. Want to feel calm and have a peaceful home for the holidays? Pay close attention!

Key is knowing that at its core, the college essay is all about reflection. And we’re giving you some tips so you can master the college essay with meaningful content. We know it is arguably the most daunting task of the application process, and we’d prefer to give you some peace of mind.

How do you do that? First, make sure you understand why students asked to write essays, and know what you can do, and what your parents should not do, to help.

We talk to admissions officers from every type of college all the time, and they tell us the same thing over and over. 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 a student’s application – to help you show who you are. It is a chance to speak directly to the admissions office.

Make sure those essays are written by you, not your mom or dad, sister, or another well-meaning adult. 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 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 parents love you and you have a vested stake in your success. So their role is critical. The best gift they can give you is helping you reflect so you are prepared to write a thoughtful answer to any type of essay prompt.

You might have a vision and ideas, but you will need to be willing to be surprised and open to ending up somewhere you didn’t expect. Tell your parents to allow themselves to be surprised, too. Their job is to be supportive; that’s it!

Make sure your Mom’s voice does not show up in the essay. Tell Dad to leave it alone. Any adult who is guiding you should drop the word “editing” from their vocabulary. They are reviewers, not editors. This is a challenging distinction. It means they should sit on their hands and hide their red pens.

Wherever you are in the process, we would love to add you to our list of success stories. Our students get into their top choice colleges, year after year. You should too. We’ll give your essay a professional review to make sure it is ready to submit. We know how to help untangle that messy essay.

Have a peaceful Thanksgiving.