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Writing The College Essay: Tried & True Advice for Parents

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

“Did you finish that college essay?”

“Did you have your English teacher edit your writing?”

“Are you sure you want to write about that?”

If you are the parent of a senior in high school, you have likely asked your child these questions or are planning on doing so soon. I use the word “child” loosely, as high school seniors are much closer to adulthood than we’d like to admit. Doesn’t it seem like yesterday that you were buckling them in their car seats? Or vacuuming the snacks from the SUV or minivan floors? And now they are tasked with writing the all-important college essay! Where did the time go?

I have been advising students on the college admissions process for over 20 years, and I hear this phrase from parents every year: “Where did the time go?” They use it not only to describe the first 18 years of their parenting journey but also the few short months between September and January that are often devoted to college applications. I promise you, these next few months will fly by faster than you can imagine, and now is the time to communicate with your child regarding the college essay. And yes, I said, “communicate.” I didn’t say “nag” or “bug” them. I didn’t say to bribe them or withhold prized possessions, although I must admit that withholding the Xbox and Snapchat would certainly be tempting (I have an almost 16-year old son).

The essay is often the most dreaded component of the application but should be the most fun; and it can definitely be the most rewarding. As we have all learned over the years (through much trial and error no doubt), our kids are unique and respond differently to this sort of task. Some will procrastinate and give us a few more gray hairs, some will rush through it and want to submit an essay riddled with errors simply to cross it off their list, and others will fret over the writing piece as though their life depended on it. The good news is that you know your child better than anyone and will be able to provide appropriate guidance.

Advice for the parent of the “procrastinator”

• Talk with your child and create a plan with a realistic calendar of milestones

• Encourage them to start early. (That means now!)

• Help them create weekly goals and deadlines. It’s ok to follow up with them.

Advice for the parent of the “rushed essay writer”

• Talk with your child and create a plan with a realistic calendar of milestones.

With the” speedsters,” you need to slow them down. I encourage parents to break down the essay into parts. For example - Week 1, brainstorm topics. Week 2, write an introductory paragraph with an outline. Week 3, write the first draft, Week 4, begin the editing process.

• Help them understand that this is the big chance to make a first and oftentimes only impression with a school. In the words of Eminem, “if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?” (Yes, my soon-to-be 16-year-old would be embarrassed that I included an Eminem reference.)

Advice for the parent of the “overthinking and stressed out essay writer”

• Talk with your child and create a plan with a realistic calendar of milestones

• Help your child understand that this essay and this process do not define them or their self-worth.

• Encourage them to have their writing reviewed by a teacher, counselor, or family friend.

My biggest piece of advice: talk to your child. Base your approach and support on what has worked best over the years. If you know from past experiences that this process will look more like your kickboxing class than your yoga class, or if you simply want to savor your last year with your child without adding this to an already chaotic 2020, then it’s ok to call in a professional. We truly enjoy working with your kids. It’s fun to help them reflect on who they are and the story they want to tell and to see them take pride in their accomplishment.

Jayne Gandy has been supporting students with their college applications and essays for over 20 years. In addition to her work with individual students, each summer she co-leads a successful and popular college application preparation “camp” for 10 rising seniors.

Prior to joining Bennett, Jayne was a school and college counselor at a highly competitive public high school in Pennsylvania. She also worked as an academic advisor to incoming freshman and sophomores at the University of Delaware, counseling students in appropriate course selection and advising them on future planning.

A graduate of Rutgers College in New Brunswick, NJ, Jayne earned her M.A. in Education,

with a specialization in School Counseling, from the University of Delaware. She was a

Division I All-American Field Hockey player and was also Rutgers Headley Singer Award

winner (Senior Female Athlete of the Year).   Jayne lives in Mullica Hill, New Jersey, with

her husband and two children, and she continues to be an accomplished athlete, competing

in triathlons and coaching youth field hockey.

If you need assistance with your college essay writing process, don't hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you!

Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by guiding them towards making informed decisions and finding the best-fit schools for their children. Our consultants specialize in counseling families and helping them find and secure placement for their children in preschools, private day schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, or schools with particular program offerings, such as special needs support.


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