3 Tips to Help Your Child’s College Essay Stand Out

3 tips for college essays

By Amy Haskell

If you have a high school student, you know it’s never too early to start thinking about college. This time of year, students are perusing college options and narrowing down their choices – in fact, some early admission applications were due Nov. 1. Short of sharpening their pencils for those nail-biting ACT exams, one of the most difficult parts of preparing a college application is the much-dreaded, often-procrastinated, admissions essay. A common lament: “Can I pleeaase work on this later?”

Maybe your child already selected his or her top college choices, filled out applications and completed the essay. (Congrats!) Or perhaps your student needs a few reminders not to wait until 11:59pm the night before an application is due to hit “send.” Either way, getting the college essay nailed down early (ideally before the holidays or sooner if applying for early admission) will make the entire application process go more smoothly.

If your student leaves enough time for revisions and follows some tried-and-true advice, there’s a good chance the essay-writing process will be no more difficult than picking out posters for that first dorm room!

While solid grammar, engaging storytelling, and a clear essay structure are a must for any essay, here are three less-common tips for students on how to keep essay writing effective and manageable:

1) Write your essay about a story or topic that you can speak about clearly & fondly.
Getting started on your paper can be the hardest part! Once you look over the prompts provided by the college admissions, think about some stories or topics that have been an important part of your life. Remember, even seemingly insignificant memories can provide a great source of reflection. Pick something that you enjoy talking about, and that will make an interesting read for the admissions team.

After selecting a story or topic, think about what you learned or gained from this experience. How were you different moving forward? Did anything change about your everyday life? Did this experience cause you to see yourself in a different way?

2) Use details & clear language at every opportunity. Keep in mind that your essay is coming straight out of your memory — only you can provide details that will help the reader understand exactly what you are seeing, thinking, and feeling. One example of doing this effectively is when telling a story about your past. Put yourself back into that situation and think about all of the details surrounding an actual event: If your story takes place outside, what was the weather like? If your story involves another person, how would you describe the way that they speak? These details will make your story come to life and jump off the page!

Once you’ve delved into the main section of your essay, include a few sentences that dictate why this was an important topic or story to you. The college admissions team will want to understand how this essay topic fits into your personal and academic life – so make sure to include some language on the impact of this event on your life.

3) Leave time to revise. Writing this essay in a hurry leaves you without the time to carefully reword or reorganize any of your thoughts. Not only that, but the best way to ensure your essay is at your best is by getting some outside eyes to read over it and offer feedback. College essays are used not only for giving some personality to your application, but also to ensure that you have strong writing skills, so take some extra time to hunt down any small spelling or grammar mistakes you may have missed.

Once you have a draft ready, consider sending your essay to a parent or mentor, or seek an essay tutor who can help you on your way to a perfect application.

* Amy Haskell is a high school English teacher and online writing tutor at Total Writing Enrichment (https://www.facebook.com/totalwritingenrichment/info). She helps high school students write college essays that stand out. For more information or to speak with a writing tutor, contact: totalwritingenrichment@gmail.com