Whenever one of my teens was frustrated or on the struggle bus, I would make an annoying and unhelpful comment: “Well, at least you have something to write about for your college essay.” Sometimes, I even said it after something funny or delightful happened.
After coaching my own kids and hundreds of students through the writing of the college essay, I have discovered two truths.
First, high school students dread the college essay. From deciding what to write about to figuring out how to “be authentic,” students feel like Sisyphus, the character in Greek mythology who is sentenced to the endless task of pushing a rock up a hill for eternity.
Second, remember when your sweet elementary student came home waving the story they wrote in school and then read it out loud to the family at dinner? How they loved telling about themselves? Well, those days are gone. To a person, teens dislike (aka hate) writing about themselves. Perhaps it’s because schools veer away from personal narrative writing in high school (an irony that is something to think about). They feel self-conscious and uncomfortable writing about themselves.
Nevertheless, the college essay is part of the application. In fact, with so many colleges going test-optional, the college essay may become an even more important part of the application. Liza Cochran, Education and Outreach Coordinator of Write the World says, “the essay is now elevated in terms of what admissions officers are looking for to get a sense of who students are and what they’ll contribute to their college community.”
How to Write A College Essay: College Essay Help
It’s hard for some students to know where to begin in writing their college essay. Here are some tips:
1. Don’t stress about the topic.
One of the biggest struggles for students, confirms Cochran, is deciding what to write about. “The essay doesn’t have to be something that seems extraordinary,” she says. “Some of the best college essays come from what seem like small details in our lives but it’s the layers that go into it that make it so compelling.”
To get at some possible ideas for the college essay, Cochran shared an exercise that writing instructors who lead college essay workshops for high school students swear by. “It’s an idea surge. We ask a series of 25 questions and give participants 10 minutes to record their responses. We may ask: ‘What song do you associate with your dad?’ or, ‘Where did your name come from and what associations do you have with it?’” The goal is to encourage students “to think about different aspects of their lives and their experiences,” explains Cochran. As they reflect on a past experience and make meaning out of it, teens can then articulate how it has helped them change and grow over time.
2. Don’t wait for the Common App.
The essay questions are often the same or very similar from year to year. There’s no need to wait for the newest essay prompts to begin working on the essay, says Cochran.
3. Know that other kids are nervous, too.
Write the World asks kids to describe how they’re feeling going into the essay-writing process, and common responses include words like “daunted,” “nervous,” “unsure.” It’s completely normal, says Cochran, and they’re all in the same boat. It’s nice to know that.
4. Consider outsourcing.
It’s perhaps the easiest answer for families to take the situation out of the home and away from parent help/nagging. Organizations like Write the World can help.
Outsourcing the College Essay with Write the World
With a community of 25,000 active high school-aged writers from all over the world, Write the World provides a variety of opportunities and support for writers. They run two workshops that focus specifically on the college essay.
The first one, designed for high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors is a two-hour session called Jumpstart Your College Essay. Instructors use this time to “demystify the essay,” explains Cochran. The provide a “deep dive into what admissions officers are looking for” and “an introduction to the personal narrative genre.”
Or, if students really want to go through the entire process from start to finish, juniors and seniors can participate in a weeklong workshop called Complete Your College Essay. Working closely with writing advisors and peers, students work to tell their story and reflect on it. They “walk away with a fully drafted, standout Personal Statement in hand, as well as a plethora of writing resources for college and beyond.”
If your teen prefers the ‘lone wolf’ method but still wants an admissions expert to review their writing, Write the World offers just that—College Essay Review. Students have a college essay editor on their side, anytime, anywhere. For just $49, students receive in-line essay edits and a comprehensive feedback report within 48 hours, as well as unlimited email support post-review.
However your teenager goes about completing their essay, the process of brainstorming and drafting and revising will be a helpful exercise in self-reflection for students—with the benefit of gaining knowledge about themselves that will serve teens long after they hit “submit” on those college applications.