Parents of Juniors: Help Your Child Get a Jump Start on the College Essay

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Whether you will be sending your first or last child to college next fall, now is a great time to start thinking about the application essay, which is often the most stressful part of the entire college admissions process.

It’s never too early to prepare.

At Wow, we teach students how to think about and write their college essays so they have the best shot at getting into their dreams schools. We also teach parents just like you how to assist their children in a way that works best for each family.

We know it can be hard for kids to write about themselves, especially when the stakes seem so high. We also know there’s a fine line between helping, telling your child what to write, and writing the essay yourself. Done right, college essays can make or break applications. They can also leave students feeling empowered, confident in their own abilities and certain of their words.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. We want to show you how to guide your child through this journey without overstepping your role.

Help Your Child Reflect

Think of yourself as a cheerleader, but not the coach. Be encouraging, but not critical.

Ask your child one question: “What do you want colleges to know about you beyond test scores, grades and extracurricular activities?”

Most students have trouble answering this question. Prod, but do it gently. Ask open-ended questions to avoid ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ answers. The answer to this question is the key to reflection.

  1. What are your child’s best traits? Is he funny? Is she serious? Compassionate? A voracious reader? Resourceful? Studious? Point out the traits you recognize, and then ask how your child views himself. Keep the conversation moving.
  2. Think characteristics, not accomplishments. Telling your child you have noticed how hard she works in everything she does is a good start. Pointing out the time she scored the winning goal is not.
  3. Praise, but don’t nag.
  4. Be positive.
  5. Stay calm. Remember to breathe.

This is an opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation about your child’s self-perception. You might be pleasantly surprised at the valuable insight you will discover when you point out your child’s positive characteristics.

When you are done with this exercise, your child will be ready to brainstorm for college essay topics.