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Parents: How to Provide College Essay Help

Find out how you can support your child through the college essay.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

March 24, 2022

Find ways to give college essay help to your child throughout the application process.
Parents: How to Provide College Essay Help
Navigating the college admissions process, especially the college essay, as a parent can be tricky. You want to give your child the autonomy to handle everything on their own, but you also want to ensure they’re really putting their best foot forward. While you cannot sit with them during the SAT or email admissions officers on their behalf, you can be a valuable asset to them behind the scenes. This is especially true for the college essay. Though they should write their personal statement on their own, you can serve to provide college essay help once they’ve finished. Start by asking the following questions:

1. Were directions followed properly?

Take a moment to read the instructions given to your student and double check to see if your student followed them. Many students misinterpret the instructions and inaccurately answer the provided question. Don’t allow your student to submit an essay with this type of response! Also, check the limits and lengths assigned by the admissions committee. This will be a word- or page-count. Sometimes, entire essays are discarded, no matter how great the writing is, just because they have failed to follow the guidelines given. Lengthy writing does not impress admissions officers who are tirelessly working to get through piles of applicants – so help your student’s candidacy by recommending they keep their statement short and sweet, as long as those were the instructions.

2. Does the formatting fit standard guidelines?

Online applications automatically format essays to fit standard guidelines. However, if your student is not applying online, he or she will have to ensure that formatting is standardized. For example, double check that the following guidelines are met: • Font? Usually, Times New Roman or Arial, 12 point font • Spacing? Check if the application specifies between single- and double-spaced. • If printed, check formatting. Only print on one side of the page. • Also, check additional requirements, such as whether or not each page must include the student’s name, high school and date of birth, etc. There may be formatting guidelines in the instructions. Read through them carefully to ensure you’re following the admissions committee requests. Even adhering to formatting guidelines can be a test for how well students can follow directions and start their college experience on the right foot.

3. Does the introduction stand out?

You want the admissions officer to want to keep reading what your child has written. Encourage them to start out with an interesting introduction, so that the reader is encouraged to continue reading. Admissions officers read hundreds, if not thousands, of applications daily and you want your child’s college essay to stand out amongst the pile. It’s best to encourage your child to get straight to the point. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how clever the first line of the essay was; it’s the substance of the essay that really counts. Get to the good stuff.

4. Does your student use active voice throughout the entire essay?

This can go a variety of routes. Some students use passive voice throughout an essay. Some switch between active and passive voice. While this is a challenge for all writers regardless of student status, it’s important to note. Using active voice will help make your student’s college essay stronger. You can utilize a word processing program, which can provide assistance with recognizing passive tense to active, but be extremely cautious in relying completely on any word processing tool because they are never completely accurate. Example of Passive Voice: Your car has been scratched. Example of Active Voice: I have scratched your car.

5. Are there any clichés?

As you read your student’s essay, do you recognize any phrases that you hear often – perhaps in conversation? Clichés are all-too-common, overly used phrases (think “tip of the iceberg,” “like a kid in a candy store,” “think outside the box,” etc.). Your student should aim to avoid these like the plague (okay, that was a cliché – but we added it as a bonus example). Why? Writing is meant to be a creative process, and using these burnt out phrases takes that creativity away. Suggest your student uses more original descriptions. For example, instead of saying “If walls could talk” your student may write, “The secrets concealed within my spirit are endless.” See? It packs much more punch! (Yep, another cliché for you!)

6. Does the conclusion echo the main points?

The conclusion of the college essay should ultimately remind the reader of the key points discussed within the body and not bring up any new ideas or subjects. Although, it should not be a recitation of what your child just wrote. The goal is to leave a lasting so impression, so how can your child do that? Point your child to the future. What to they see for themselves because of this college degree at that particular school will shape them? Answering these questions will be helpful to the admissions committee.

More College Essay Help

Students should start their first draft early – at the very least – one month before the essay is due, so that there is plenty of time for additional review and additional drafts. It’s also important to take breaks in between so that your child can return with a refreshed mindset, ready to make new edits. Though it may seem like a daunting process, starting early and taking it day by day is the best way to ensure the best essay outcome for everyone involved! If you don’t feel comfortable assessing your child’s college essay, encourage them to work with their guidance counselor or a trusted teacher. This can be the best way to support them, sometimes. Their guidance counselor is definitely experienced and well-practiced in the art of essay editing, and a teacher that they have a close relationship with will be personally invested in the outcome. Essentially, it’s ok if essay editing is not your strong suit. There are people in your child’s circle who can help too. Once they have sought help with editing, you should still ask to read their essay. It shows that you’re invested in this process and care about their college admissions application, even if you have nothing to offer besides a “great job” or “I’m so proud of you,” which is very likely your sentiment after watching them on this journey.

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