For Parents: Offering Personal Essay Help

Parents often find themselves at a loss for how to help their college-bound students write their admissions application essays.  Students writing for either undergraduate or graduate admissions find the process intimidating because it requires many skills: analysis, creativity, and personal reflection. As a result, writers might shy away from help (even/especially from parents).  Here is one student perspective on the role parents play in the college admissions process:

Below is an outline of some of my tips parents can share with their soon-to-be college or graduate school students, even if it means printing out this post and  ‘accidentally’ leaving these tips on the kitchen counter.

Personal Statements: Basic Guidelines
Before Writing: research the school and its faculty:

  • know the admissions and enrollment statistics
  • know of two or three faculty of interest, their research, and one or two of their published works

Topics for the Personal Statement/Essay
The School-Focused Parts:

  • Share why you have chosen to apply to a particular school
  • Share that you are and why you are interested in a particular field
  • Share what you know about the professors you researched and indicate your interest in working with them

The Student-Focused Parts:

  • Share your motivation – how you became interested in the field you want to enroll in
  • Discuss your skills with examples: oral communication, writing, leadership, peer motivation, etc.
  • Discuss one possible career goal if you can do so clearly. Do not discuss a handful of possible careers goals.
  • Share any personal challenges that will show admissions readers you have perseverance in the face of adversity
  • Every story, every example, every line needs to relate directly to how it has prepared you for success in college/grad school

General Considerations:

  • Avoid grandiose statements
  • Use active words
  • Be succinct – revise for unnecessary words, phrases, and whole points in some cases
  • Aim for no more than 2 pages 

No wonder writing the college admissions essay is daunting. It demands exactly the right mix of personal stories, persuasive writing, and recognition of the school itself in two pages of flawless writing.  My final tip: suggest that your student writer request a session with Tutoring the Whole Writer. 

Good luck to all of the students who are writing passionately at all hours of the day and night to achieve their college dreams.