Most colleges use The Common App which allows students to apply to multiple colleges at once. This usually includes:
- Personal information.
- Main personal statement of about 650 words.
- Sawyer suggests to think of this statement prompt as, “Describe the world you come from and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.”
- Activities list.
- Most colleges will request different supplemental essays.
- This means several different essay requirements per school.
Some of these essays might be exactly the same prompt and can double, but if the topics are different then the essays will be different.
Sawyer gives the tip, “Take the different prompts you think will overlap and put them at the top of your word document. Write an essay that works for those two or three prompts. Actually writing and answering all three of those prompts at the same time will add some texture, layers, and levels to the essay and save time.”
Each of these essays is a chance to share a little bit more about yourself and show a variety of values. “Do these with someone else to get feedback and see how you are coming across,” notes Sawyer. The website has a “values exercise” so students can learn a few different values they have and should be sure to share through their essays.
Parents in the Process
How parents can help in the application and essay writing process varies. “It depends, but it can be useful to, as much as possible, serve in the role of cheerleader,” recommends Sawyer. It is also helpful to designate a certain day of the week as “college day”, and that is the one day of the week to discuss and work on college items.
Parents can also help by staying aware of deadlines. Be sure to follow up with your child on “college day” to remind them when certain things are due. Some parents also find it helpful to have an outside family member or consultant to be in charge of monitoring application progress. Ask your child how you can best support them.
“I like to invite students to begin the process after AP testing in the spring of their junior year,” explains Sawyer, “because we know what some of those prompts are going to be and you can gear your Summer towards that.” Supplemental essay questions are usually released in August. Get a draft of the common app done over Summer break. It is also important to have a balanced college list done by the end of Summer with 8 or 9 schools including:
- 2 or 3 dream schools where you have a 5% chance of getting in.
- 3 or 4 realistic schools where you will probably get in.
- 2 or 3 really clear “likely” schools.
The Importance of Essays
While the entire package is important, Sawyer admits, “In some cases it can provide context and information to really make a difference.” You want your essay to make an admissions officer want to fight for you to get in. However, “An amazing essay isn’t going to make up for four years of slacking off,” states Sawyer.
The most importance piece is the main essay. Sawyer strongly says, “Allow a lot of time for that. Write it over a process of weeks, not just days or one day.” It will take between 6-10 drafts and revising before it will be of a high enough quality. Sawyer estimates it takes between 20-40 hours to create a fantastic essay that shows off a student’s strengths.
About the Website
There are lots of free resources available such as:
- Sample essays.
- Step by step guide to write an essay.
- Advice on supplements.
- Search bar to find anything you are looking for.
- How to create a great college list.
- “What should I be doing right now?” timeline.
- Complete Guide To The College Essay.
- A six video series where Sawyer walks you through what to do.
Sawyer also gives these quick tips:
- Parents should encourage students to create a very balanced college list.
- Listen through the process.
- Check out Sawyer’s new book that will be released next year.
Brad suggests, “The Scholarship Guide for Busy Parents” which is a video series available on our website. It teaches parents all about the different types of scholarships, how to apply to them (if you need to), and how to win them!
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