How to Prepare for the College Application Journey

The college essay is all about reflection!

This time of year, every year, many moms and dads with high school juniors (and even sophomores!) start to get nervous. Seniors are either done, or at the end of the college admissions process; some have been admitted to their dream schools, while others were deferred or rejected. College talk is all the rage.

It can be overwhelming. Confusing. Distressing. But there’s no need to panic. We want you to get through this process with minimal stress inside your home.

Here’s our No. 1 tip to share with students to start preparing them for the application journey: Writing a college essay is all about reflection. Students need to learn how to reflect!

How to Teach Reflection

Despite what you might believe, writing is not the most challenging part of the essay. The tough part comes at the beginning, when we ask our students what matters to them and why. Parents can help their children explore how they exhibit their most significant traits or characteristics. That’s the first step toward reflection. And that’s critical!

We know that most high school students spend a lot of time thinking and talking about friends, moving out of the house, figuring out life, choosing a career and deciding which college to attend. But if they are taught how to reflect before the next admission cycle starts in late spring, they will be better prepared for the last phase of this journey to college.

As professionals, our job is to find out what’s important to them and why. As parents, you can help with this part of the journey. To students, we say, trust yourself!

The good news: We believe you are more than ready for this challenge.

At Wow, when we help our students reflect and focus up front, the rest of the process moves much more smoothly. Too many students start in the wrong place. They come to us full of ideas about topics, with little consideration of the essay’s purpose.

All too often, students look for activities that might lead to stories, and they waste a lot of time talking about their experiences and their accomplishments without considering how they were affected by any experience or accomplishment.

When they do this, students do not answer the prompt, which, no matter how it is worded, is really asking students to show some insight into those experiences or accomplishments. That’s reflection.

Mom and Dad, encourage your child to start at the beginning of the process – which can be a simple  conversation with you. You know what’s amazing about your child; help your child figure this out, too. I can’t script this for you; it wouldn’t work. But I can offer some suggestions to get the ball rolling.

Make a list

  • What makes your child so wonderful?
  • What do you love about this person you’ve raised?
  • Is your son kind? Resourceful? Compassionate?
  • Is your daughter industrious? Funny? Patient?

Think about qualities and characteristics, not accomplishments.

What are you waiting for?

Find a time to sit down with your son or daughter, then share and listen with an open mind and heart. This is a journey into self-discovery to teach your future college student how to be introspective and find meaning in life experiences.

This is a key conversation to help your child answer the one question that can really help hit that essay out of the ballpark: What do you want to share with colleges that they don’t already know about you, beyond grades, test scores and extracurricular activities?

Once your child can answer this question with a specific trait or characteristic, he or she will be able to find a meaningful story that illustrates that trait and also answers the prompt.

If you can get your child to this point, your son or daughter will be ready to continue the process of discovery – and will be prepared to write those essays this spring or summer.

Find out more about Wow! Download a free copy of our book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Students, Second Edition.

Picture of Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Perceptive, resourceful and curious, Kim can get a story out of anyone. Kim is a former newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager. With Susan Knoppow, Wow’s CEO, Kim developed the Wow Method by combining her journalistic training with Susan’s organization and instructional design skills. She holds a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. Kim’s articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines and online publications. Kim and Susan have co-authored three books – How to Write an Effective College Application Essay (The Inside Scoop for Parents, Students, Counselors). They are members/affiliates of the Michigan Association of College Admission Counseling (MACAC), the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).
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