If you are the parent of a high school student who is applying to college, then tension may be sky-high in your house right now. Your child has to write a personal essay, and the process can be extremely painful for many students.
1.) Show, don’t tell
2.) Show who you are, right now
3.) Show you have something positive to offer the college’s community
- Say, “I have something positive to offer your community…”
- Repeat anything elsewhere on your application (grades, honors…)
- Waste words
Try opening with a story. Paint a picture with words. Think like you are creating a video, rather than just spitting words at people. Describe a scene:
The ball grazed my outstretched hand, and for a moment time stopped. Then my body slammed into the ground and the ball kept going. For what seemed like forever, I lay there knowing my failure had cost us the game. But that moment changed me forever, and taught me I am far stronger than I ever imagined.
is better than…
I am a really competitive person. I like to win. I jumped as far as I could, but missed the ball. We lost. It was my fault. I’m still bitter, but my anger makes me work harder.
What if it isn’t that easy for you to write creatively? Here’s a hint: it’s not easy for the vast majority of human beings. The difference between “great” writers and everyone else is they write. A lot. They revise draft after draft.
Here’s another hint: you are not going to write an effective college essay in one or two tries. You might need ten, twenty or thirty drafts. Save each draft as a new file! Sometimes you will go back to an earlier draft and discover it was almost perfect.
Get feedback from people you trust, but don’t let anyone else put words into your mouth. Your Mom or Dad might be able to write an essay for you, but it is a horrible idea to let either one do that. College is all about becoming your own person, and what a horrible way to start that adventure by making yourself a mouthpiece for someone else’s ideas.
If you’re stuck for a topic, just start writing. Write for ten or twenty minutes at a stretch. Write about anything. After each session, go back and circle any phrase or sentence you either like or that mentions something about which you’d like to say more. Start a list of these nuggets, and use them as the inspiration for subsequent writing sessions. Sooner or later, you’ll see an essay emerge.
How do you know if it’s any good? Does it give others a taste of who you are, this year? Does it help others understand how you have grown as a person? Does it make you think: this is a person I’d like to meet? If so, you are on the right track.