November 9, 2017

3 Smarty Tips to Help Your Child’s College Essay Stand Out

By Amy Haskell, founder of Total Writing Enrichment, where she helps teens master college admissions essays that stand out; she founded her company with a mission to ease stress, build confidence and teach writing skills to teens.


If you have a high school student, you know it’s never too early to start thinking about college. This time of year, students are perusing college options and narrowing down their choices – in fact, some early admission applications were due Nov. 1. Short of sharpening their pencils for those nail-biting ACT exams, one of the most difficult parts of preparing a college application is the much-dreaded, often-procrastinated, admissions essay. A common lament: “Can I pleeaase work on this later?”

Maybe your child already selected his or her top college choices, filled out applications and completed the essay. (Congrats!) Or perhaps your student needs a few reminders not to wait until 11:59pm the night before an application is due to hit “send.” Either way, getting the college essay nailed down early (ideally before the holidays or sooner if applying for early admission) will make the entire application process go more smoothly.

If your student leaves enough time for revisions and follows some tried-and-true advice, there’s a good chance the essay-writing process will be no more difficult than picking out posters for that first dorm room!
While solid grammar, engaging storytelling, and a clear essay structure are a must for any essay, here are three less-common tips for students on how to keep essay writing effective and manageable:

1) Write your essay about a story or topic that you can speak about clearly & fondly.
Getting started on your paper can be the hardest part! Once you look over the prompts provided by the college admissions, think about some stories or topics that have been an important part of your life. Remember, even seemingly insignificant memories can provide a great source of reflection. Pick something that you enjoy talking about, and that will make an interesting read for the admissions team.

After selecting a story or topic, think about what you learned or gained from this experience. How were you different moving forward? Did anything change about your everyday life? Did this experience cause you to see yourself in a different way?

2) Use details & clear language at every opportunity. Keep in mind that your essay is coming straight out of your memory — only you can provide details that will help the reader understand exactly what you are seeing, thinking, and feeling. One example of doing this effectively is when telling a story about your past. Put yourself back into that situation and think about all of the details surrounding an actual event: If your story takes place outside, what was the weather like? If your story involves another person, how would you describe the way that they speak? These details will make your story come to life and jump off the page!

Once you’ve delved into the main section of your essay, include a few sentences that dictate why this was an important topic or story to you. The college admissions team will want to understand how this essay topic fits into your personal and academic life – so make sure to include some language on the impact of this event on your life.

3) Leave time to revise. Writing this essay in a hurry leaves you without the time to carefully reword or reorganize any of your thoughts. Not only that, but the best way to ensure your essay is at your best is by getting some outside eyes to read over it and offer feedback. College essays are used not only for giving some personality to your application, but also to ensure that you have strong writing skills, so take some extra time to hunt down any small spelling or grammar mistakes you may have missed.

Once you have a draft ready, consider sending your essay to a parent or mentor, or seek an essay tutor who can help you on your way to a perfect application.

About the Author, Amy Haskell:

I love helping teens with their writing! Whether acing an essay on Macbeth or checking off the Common App for the tricky college application process, seeing a stressed out teenager smile, breath a sigh of relief, and start believing in him/herself means the world to me!

While teaching at a nationally ranked, high performing high school in the northern suburbs of Chicago, my heart broke each time a student shook his head, became teary eyed, and clenched his fists with the stress of trying to be the perfect student. I started tutoring kids while on maternity leave from teaching with my son William, now 10 years old, and the demand for my help sky rocketed. In order to reach more students, I created online writing lessons and the rest is history.

Two years ago, my husband and I quit our jobs, packed up our minivan, and headed south to Charlotte – yes, we remembered to stuff in the car our four dear children, and headed south to Charlotte. So far, we love our neighborhood and enjoy meeting the warmest, friendliest new friends here in Charlotte – does research prove nicer weather equals happier people?

When I’m not reviewing essays, I’m insanely attempting to whip my muscles in shape at Swim Mac where I proudly remain one of the slowest members of the Master Swim Team. I also love to pretend I can garden and refreshing my many shades of pink flowers in the front porch potters.

What fuels my passion to help these stressed out teens is the constant love, joy, and laughter from my patient husband Rick, a die hard Chicago Cubs fan, and my four bubbling energy filled soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey playing children Emily (14), Molly (11), William (10), and Sarah (8). This Chicago girl loves life in Charlotte and appreciates every second of 60 degree weather in January and meeting new friends who seem to all have a desire for balance and love in their lives.

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