Do you hear all those pounding footsteps? That’s the sound of thousands of teenagers running to their rooms to hide.
Now that school’s out, rising seniors know that the college essay needs to be written for applications. And it’s a doozy.
Good news for your kid, though – you can be a great support during this stressful writing process, and I’ve got some tips to help you do just that. Hopefully that’ll help to take a little bit of burden off of his shoulders.
But hold on a sec.
Before diving into the ways you can help out with the college essay, let’s first go over the two things you absolutely shouldn’t be doing…
1| Don’t write it yourself.
It should go without saying, but you’d be surprised at the number of panicked parents who actually do this. Resist the temptation to come up with a topic for your teen, or to write any part of the essay for him.
This is your kid’s time to shine – his story. Admissions officers know when an essay is forced or disingenuous. And they absolutely, positively know when a 17 year old didn’t write it.
2| Don’t get overly involved.
This is a really stressful time for your kid. If you’re too invested in the essay-writing process you’re going to make him anxious. Nothing good comes from that – especially not an awesome college essay. So spare yourself, and your kid, hurt feelings and do only the minimum needed to allow him to feel like he’s supported by you.
OK, now let’s talk about what you should do. Ready to begin? Deep breaths now.
1| Help schedule time to work on the essay and track deadlines.
If your family’s anything like mine, your summer is filled to the gills with activities and time away from home.
Give your kid some comfortable space to do his best work without extra stress. He needs to know that he’ll have dedicated time outside of family activities, part-time jobs, and anything else summer brings to work on the essay.
Remember that this is something that should be completed in small chunks leading up to a final, polished piece. It’s more of a marathon than a sprint – teenagers should spread the workload out in order to do their best, freshest work. Help him to determine a good timeline to work on it.
I recommend that teens have a deadline to complete the essay well before school starts again in the fall. Teenagers rarely have the mental capacity to do their absolute best on the essay while juggling other school subjects, activities and responsibilities. Although he should be the one leading the charge on determining dates, you can help your teen to review the calendar and suggest smart deadlines.
2| Brainstorm together.
Ultimately, colleges want to get down to the bottom of who your teenager is as a person. The rest of the application can only reveal so much, but the essay extends into a more holistic view what he’s all about.
Before even looking at the essay prompts (which are all “who are you?” in nature), I recommend that your teen reflect on his backstory. Who IS he? What has shaped him into the person he is today? This will help define a theme for the essay.
Ask him leading questions like, ”What are your innate strengths, or the things that you’ve always been good at? What challenges have you overcome? What are you passionate about? What would your friends say about you as a person?”
For 30 powerful questions to help your teen uncover a better, deeper understanding of what he’s all about, download my What’s Your Passion? worksheet. His answers to those questions might spark some terrific ideas, or he may be able to spot a thread to help nail down a theme.
Then, capture the themes that come across in one specific story to relay. Help your teen think about past experiences or events in his life that were impactful to him. Remind him of some of the things he’s accomplished or surmounted. This is a time when reading through the college essay prompts on the application might be helpful.
Truly, the topic of your essay can be about anything. It’s what your teen says about himself that matters.
3| Give your teenager some space.
The worst thing you can do is to make the essay a topic of conversation at every turn. The purpose of spreading things out and taking it a little slow is to have that down time to rejuvenate and just chill.
Thinking about the essay more than he has to will only cause stress and overwhelm – and that’s the last thing he needs if he’s going to perform well on it.
4| Offer feedback.
Your kid will write the essay on his own, and it may be that he’d like you to give him some feedback about how he’s doing along the way. That’s great!
But beware: The type of feedback you give him and the type he’s seeking might be completely different.
First, make sure he wants your feedback on things. And then before reading through what he’s written, ask him what type of feedback he’s looking for. Does he want you to tell him if he’s on-course with his topic? Does he need you to refine things a bit? Does he only want you to proofread?
Be honest, but gentle, in your observations. And just remind yourself again, “This is not my essay.”
5| Recommend an outside editor.
The college essay is arguably the most important part of the college application, so it stands to reason that your teenager might appreciate someone to help him refine and polish it during the process.
And gosh – you might just be a writer by trade, Mom, but you know as well as I do that you’re just too close to your kid. The best idea is to refer your teen out.
English teachers and guidance counselors can help students hone their college essays. There are also professionals out there who assist with this sort of thing. Consider all avenues and suggest different options for your teen.
Now that you’ve got some insight into how to (gently) assist your teen with the college essay, go check under the blankets in your kid’s room – you’ll probably find him there.
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