How to write a college application essay (a parent’s guide)

I feel a little like my daughter writing her college application essay as I write this week’s post. Or maybe more accurately, not writing it. Since I try to meet my challenge of publishing something at least once a week, I’m always thinking of ideas. I have a word document with just ideas. Then I expand on those, usually in my head on my long runs. I will then do a somewhat stream of consciousness draft that I will further edit into the published version you see.

Sometimes a topic emerges that moves me so much it goes from idea to publishable in a matter of a few hours. Then there are weeks like this one where my mind has been occupied by other priorities – including trying to figure out ways to motivate my daughter to write her essay. I’ve looked at my ideas list and a couple of ‘not quite fully developed’ drafts; none of which motivated me.

So yeah, here my daughter and I both sit with absolutely no motivation. I wonder how I can motivate her, when I’m struggling myself. Is there any advice or guidance I’d like to give her that I can heed myself? I decided to first read the suggested topics for college essays contained on the Common App. Maybe they would give me some ideas.

All the topics give students an opportunity to share what’s unique and special about themselves (share your story, how have you learned from obstacles/challenged a belief/solved a problem/grown personally, or what captivates you?). That didn’t give me any ideas because I’ve written about most of those subjects here in one form or another already. Those things came easily to me (the challenge is sticking to 250-650 words).

But it got me thinking. This essay writing stuff can be hard, especially for adolescents who are still discovering themselves and can be really shy about sharing anything. At 52, I have a lot of self-confidence, as well a thick skin, and have learned there is a lot to be gained though honesty and trust (for you and your reader). I don’t recall having much anxiety about my college application essay, but I don’t remember what I wrote about either.

I Googled “Common App Essays” and one of the results was a link to a Princeton Review article, “Popular College Application Essay Topics (and how to answer them).” If my daughter wanted my two-cents on the subject at all, I would at the very least send her a link to it (Okay I did. Got a reply that was something along the lines of mind your own business, but worse). I thought the piece was helpful and a good place to start. But, what do I know.

Their suggestions helped me understand how we can best help our kids with their college essays. Give them confidence and constantly remind them about what makes them special and unique. As a parent, I also need to believe in my kid enough to let her figure it out for herself, even if that means not getting the college application in as soon as I’d like her to. It all works out.

I too will figure out something to write about for this week’s blog post. I wouldn’t be setting a good example if I procrastinated now, would I? Better go for a run.

Crestwood Park, Allendale, New Jersey. October 2017.


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