Amy Haskell, M.A., M.Ed., Founder, Total Writing Enrichment Services
Confession: I love to edit high school students’ essays, which I know makes me stand alone on this island of English teacher quirks. I remember after a long week of teaching, relishing in the thought of clearing my weekend calendar, organizing 75 sophomore narrative essays, grabbing my red, purple, and green pens, and diving into reading and editing their essays. Nothing gave me more fulfillment than, even after writing all over each page in the margins, writing personable notes to each student to inspire them as I carefully offered constructive feedback to improve their writing.
Since transitioning from a formal classroom setting, I still get to use my colorful pens (metaphorically speaking, as I teach and comment online now) through coaching students along with their writing, and my students learn and apply my comments through questions like, “how can you make your thesis more specific and arguable?” and “can you include better details to explain your emotion?”.
Through the years, I’ve discovered that many English teachers neglect to assign the narrative essay to their students and I feel these students miss out on learning to write the personal memoir – otherwise known as the college admission essay. Students gain so much about their own personal growth through writing these essays and I feel sad for those who attend schools that miss seeing the benefits of this essay in their curriculum.
Recently, one of my friends, the mom of current college and high school students, asked me how to make college essay writing more efficient. Specifically, how can a senior “use the Common App essay and translate it to all the prompts?” This is a great question!
This year, high school seniors can gain a sense of control given the many uncertainties floating about in the world today, especially the world of college admissions by writing outstanding college admission essays.
Here are some hot tips to help you guide your senior on not only writing show stopping, get-my-teen-into-college essays; but, strategies to save time and frustration as your senior writes and aces all of his/her college admission essays before the due dates!
Hot Tip #1: Focus first, NOT ON THE TOPIC OF THE ESSAY, but on the specific strengths or best qualities of the applicant.
Many parents think they, “have the perfect college essay topic for their teen,” but not only does their teen disagree with what the parent envisions for them (imagine that), but the topic the parent has in mind fails to align with the most important personality characteristics their teen has to offer.
Hot Tip #2: Your senior needs to write his/her top strengths in a document so to make sure to leverage those strengths in the smaller, supplemental essays – especially if those strengths are not used in the Common App essay.
That’s the trick to saving hours upon hours of wasted time.
Hot Tip #3: Your teen needs to know, ultimately, exactly the personal traits to write about to the colleges. Yes, narrowing in on those traits can be tricky and take time but the efforts are worth it for college acceptance.
For example, in the “why _____ college?” question, the colleges want to know two main bits of information: first, has your son or daughter truly identified the reasons this college is a suitable match (in other words, done their research about the school?) and second, what other pieces of information does your teen want to share about him/herself to the colleges even through this question?
As I write this in the beginning of July, we are all living under the heavy blanket of the coronavirus, cheering for our teens, as we hope for a better future. Nobody knows exactly what the fall is going to look like or to what extent colleges will have to adjust to our new normal, but I hope you’re taking some time to enjoy your own little quirks, and the idiosyncracies of your charming teenager. They need you more than ever and remember, “This too will pass.”
Amy Haskell is the CEO and Founder, of Total Writing Enrichment, where she helps parents who have successful, motivated teens write killer essays that win them college admissions and scholarships and the parents don’t have to lift a pen.