How Can Parents Help Edit Their Child's College Essays?
By Katherine Cohen, Ph.D.
March 10, 2009
Regardless of your child’s grades or test scores, he or she will likely struggle with his or her personal statement, commonly known as “the college essay.” Here are six questions to consider when your child asks you to help edit his or her personal statement.
1. Did your child follow directions?
Many students fail to accurately answer the question posed in a college application. Also, many ignore word or page limits. Good writing does not necessarily mean lengthy writing. Rarely do four single-spaced pages impress busy admissions officers who need to make quick assessments of your child’s candidacy. For example, when using the Common Application, I recommend that the personal statement not exceed one and a half pages.
2. Did your child use the appropriate format?
When applying online, your child’s essay will automatically be formatted to fit standard guidelines. If he or she decides not to send the college application electronically, remind him or her to follow these guidelines:
- Use single space
- Use Times New Roman in a 12 point font.
- Make sure that each page has your student’s name, high school and date of birth.
- Print on only one side of the page
3. Is the first sentence catchy?
The first sentence should always be catchy, so as to encourage the reader to continue. If your child is experiencing writer’s block and is struggling with the introduction, suggest that he or she continue with the rest of the essay and come back to the introduction later on. Tell your child to explore the theme and different examples. Armed with these anecdotes, your child will have an easier time selecting a catchy first sentence.
4. Does the essay contain clichés?
Do you see commonly used phrases in your child’s essay that you’ve heard frequently in casual conversation? If so, it is probably a cliché. Clichés usually sneak in when your child is being descriptive. Sadly, clichés dilute your student’s distinctive voice. For example, your child may write: “it was raining cats and dogs.” Instead you can suggest more original writing like: “heavy raindrops fell, blinding my view.” Re-phrasing these overly-used statements will help your child’s writing stand out.
5. Is the essay written in the active voice?
This is a challenge for all writers. As a matter of style, writing in an active voice energizes an essay. Try not to let the passive voice dominate your student’s essay.
Word processing programs often provide assistance with converting passive sentences to the active tense.
6. Does the conclusion recapture the main points?
Your student’s essay should leave a lasting statement that reminds the reader of his or her key points. The conclusion should reiterate the themes of the essay, but in a different way than before. Additionally, make sure that your child does not bring up new ideas in his or her conclusion.
I hope these tips help you guide your child through this stressful, but essential part of the college application. As solid writing only comes with practice, I recommend your child invests time in crafting his or her personal statement. To start, have your child complete a first draft of his or her essay at least one month before the deadline. Then, give them a break. Allow them a few days between each revision where you can share your comments in a constructive manner. Giving feedback when your child has a fresh pair of eyes can bring a different perspective to his or her “college essay.”