By Brian White
“Parents are key to ensuring that there is ultimately time for essay editing.”
College application essays are intended to provide insight beyond the impersonal numbers of test scores and academic transcripts. Recommendation letters can provide a third-party perspective, but the essay is a student’s best chance to speak directly to the gatekeepers of higher education.
A great essay can lead to a coveted acceptance letter, but a great essay involves careful planning and execution – including substantial editing. This revision process is one area where parents can be of help to their students. If this is your first time applying to colleges with a student, here are several editing tips to keep in mind.
[Learn how to write a great college application essay in this video.]
1. Develop a timeline that includes editing days: A strong essay cannot be written and revised in a single day. It is essential that students begin their essays well ahead of schedule in order to allow ample time for revisions and reconsiderations.
Starting two to three months before the earliest application deadline is not unreasonable, nor is beginning the summer before senior year. Since college applications generally fall outside a high school student’s class load, parents are key to ensuring that there is ultimately time for essay editing.
With a due date that is several months away, your student may be tempted to postpone work on his or her essay until the last possible moment. You can avoid this by setting realistic goals together, including a timeline for finishing an outline, a draft, a first round of revisions and a final essay. Students can check in with their parents to provide updates on a weekly or biweekly basis.
2.Flesh out the details: My mother loves telling the story of how, when I was three, she left me unattended for “just a minute.” In that minute, I managed to not only find a spectacular mud puddle, but to lead my younger brother in a full-body art project that involved squeezing as much mud as possible through a nearby window screen.
When I was 17 and working on my college applications, I would have never considered using this story in an essay – it was just a way that my mother had a good laugh at my expense – or so teenage me thought.
Consider, though, the plight of the admissions officer who must read thousands of variations on, “I demonstrated leadership by becoming treasurer of the junior class council.”
Imagine, amidst a sea of such essays, a personal statement that opens with an anecdote showing that this person is capable of self-reflection, and that he or she possesses a sense of humor, an early aptitude for leadership and a developed sense of self-expression.
The goal during revision is for parents to help ensure that college application essays move beyond the simple recitation of events. Once your student settles on a thesis, think of small stories that illustrate that argument. The “big” narrative – the tournament victories, the scholastic achievements and the test scores – will already be in the application.
It is the small moments that make for wonderful stories. These are the same moments that might not occur to a student looking toward adulthood, such as showing kindness to a stranger, offering to share a treasured toy or displaying an unexpected feat of willpower.
3. Focus on audience: College application essays are written by high school students, but they are read and evaluated by adults. Thus, the challenge is not just to write a meaningful essay, but also one that speaks to the intended audience.
A well-crafted essay that avoids slang and other forms of teen speak can demonstrate maturity and superior writing skills. One way parents can help with the revision process is to act as a filter. In other words, they can highlight expressions that perfectly suit the tone of a college application essay, or identify those sentences where different phrasing could make a far more effective point.
4. Always remember to strike a balance: Both too little and too much parental involvement can harm a student’s final draft. A student’s college application essay is his or her opportunity to speak directly to a school, so parental suggestions should be limited to more general observations.
For example, parents can point out places where the purpose of the essay is unclear, or underline paragraphs where the wording is awkward. Be sure to praise the sections that work, and discuss why they work. Do not restructure an entire introduction or conclusion.
Parents need to remember that college application essays are their child’s chance to shine. By the end of the revision process, you should have learned something about your student. If you have, this is a great indicator that the complete stranger who will ultimately read this essay will learn something too.