The whole process of applying to college can last for a few years. I know for my oldest child (who doesn’t love school), he’ll be tired, feel overwhelmed, and I’ll be right there with him.
Part of the preparation will be getting his college essays done. This is probably going to be the toughest part for him. He doesn’t enjoy reading or writing, and I can hear him now—complaining about how dumb it all is, asking why the essays have to be a certain length, and how hard it is to think of what to say.
Let’s face it, writing is difficult and it’s especially hard when you’re going to school, visiting colleges, filling out applications, and trying to keep up with sports, a social life, and the regular nagging from your mom to keep your room clean.
But how much should we be helping our kids with their college essays? Doing it for them doesn’t feel like the right thing to do: they need to be taking responsibility for their future at this age, especially because college comes with such a hefty price tag and should be taken seriously.
What better way to make them feel more invested than to have them do most of the work themselves, while you stand along the sidelines for support?
But, unless your child loves writing, their essays are going to be one of the most challenging parts of their college applications. According to the New York Times, you should let it be hard, and have them figure it out for themselves instead of writing it for them or giving them too much input so their own voice doesn’t come through.
Every part of the application process serves its purpose, and the essay is where administrators get to know your child. It speaks to them in a way the application and SAT scores can’t. When a parent writes the essay, they can tell. If a parent over-edits an essay, they can also tell.
This is the time to let your children speak for themselves and show off who they are. Colleges aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for personality instead.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t assist your child in writing their essay. Many of us feel that if we don’t push (or do something ourselves), it just won’t get done—not to mention how many kids like mine say they work better under pressure.
However, if helping your child with their essay isn’t your thing, there are many websites and online articles you can refer to, and there are coaches you can hire. This can be beneficial if you think you’ll both be better off if you pass the torch, if you simply don’t have the time or patience, or you think a professional will have a lot more to offer because you hate the writing process yourself.
You and your child can also learn a lot more about essays and how to write a good college admissions essay in Brad Baldridge’s podcast interview with Ethan Sawyer, the College Essay Guy.
I talked to several parents about how much they helped their kids with their essays and most of them said they only helped with brainstorming ideas, and proofreading. Other than that, they let their kids do the work, and their kids all got into college just fine.
Nicole R. said, “I didn’t help at all. It’s their journey.”
Suzanne P. agreed, saying, “I proofread and made suggestions for edits, but that was all.”
Tammy R. didn’t help at all but encouraged her child to reach out to an English teacher if he needed help, and he did. “They did dome brainstorming, then proofread, but that was all.”
I wrote my own college essays. I don’t even think it occurred to my mother or father to look at them, much less help me or think about writing it themselves. If college essay coaches were available, it certainly wasn’t a well-known service in the early ‘90s when I was writing my essays.
The consensus from parents I’ve talked to seems to be, like so many other parenting situations, let your child do most of the work themselves. Offer support and be a sounding board, or do some online research or hire a coach if your child needs more help along the way.
A college essay is supposed to be a personal statement about your child, so let them make that statement on their own terms.
Need Help with College Planning?
Hi, I’m Brad Baldridge, a college funding specialist and the owner of Taming the High Cost of College.
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