The Ultimate Guide to College Essay Writing for Parents: How to Support Your Child

A parent helping their child with the essay writing process

So, your child has narrowed down their list of colleges, and now comes the daunting task of writing multiple essays, including personal statements and school-specific supplements. You as a parent might be wondering, how can I help? That’s where this guide on college essay writing for parents comes in. Hint: You will not be writing the essay.

Finding the right balance between providing assistance and respecting their autonomy can be tricky. After all, teenagers often need space to express themselves, but they may also benefit from some guidance.

The personal statement itself can be a challenging task for many students. It requires a different writing style than they are accustomed to in school. You may have concerns about offering too much help and crossing into the territory of plagiarism or compromising your academic integrity.

On the other hand, you may worry that your child needs to enhance their writing skills, and you start Googling how to write a college essay to make sure they’re doing it correctly. But WAIT. It’s essential to find the “Goldilocks Zone” where you honor their boundaries while providing the necessary support.

In this guide, let’s find out what parental support you can provide your child during the writing process.

What is a college essay?

Most students will use the Common App when applying to colleges and universities in the U.S., while fewer schools prefer their own system or the Coalition application. Whether it’s the Common App or another, most universities ask students to submit a personal statement or essay as a crucial part of their application. The college application essays allow students to showcase their unique qualities, experiences, and perspectives to the admissions committees.

Let’s look at one of the Common App prompts to give you an idea.

“Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” Here, students can delve into a personal story or experience that has shaped who they are and how it relates to their aspirations.

With a limit of 650 words or fewer, students must carefully craft their essays, expressing themselves authentically and concisely. It’s a chance to highlight their strengths, passions, and what makes them stand out from other applicants.

Check out more college essays for parents to help your child.

What are some common college essay writing challenges?

Here are some common challenges that students may face when writing their college essays:

Choosing a compelling topic

Your child might need help selecting a topic that showcases their unique qualities and experiences. For example, they may need help deciding whether to write about a personal achievement, a challenging life event, or a meaningful hobby.

Organizing their thoughts

Your child finds it challenging to structure their essay clearly and cohesively. They may have numerous ideas but need help to present them logically and engagingly.

Finding their voice

Developing a distinct writing style can take time for many students. They may need help to strike the right balance between sounding authentic and maintaining a formal tone.

Meeting word limits

With word limits imposed by college applications, students may need help expressing their thoughts concisely. They may need help cutting down their essay while conveying their message effectively.

Overcoming self-doubt

Students often need help with self-doubt and worry about whether their essay is good enough. They may question their writing abilities or compare themselves to others, hindering their creativity and confidence.

Editing and revising

After writing a draft, students need to revise and edit their essays. It can be challenging to objectively evaluate their work and make necessary improvements.

A parent’s role in the college essay process

It’s important that students write their college essays and that you give empathetic support. They may not want you involved. They might also be frustrated with the process or nervous to ask for help. Try to empathize and understand where you fit. Ultimately, accept that they might not want or need help!

Here are some tips for college essay writing for parents to help you support your child in the process:

Empathetic support

Understand that writing college essays is a personal journey for your child. Respect their boundaries and provide emotional support. Let them know you’re there for them, whether they want assistance or prefer to work independently.

Encourage they start early

Motivate your child to start early to avoid last-minute stress. Emphasize the importance of time management and planning to allow for thoughtful reflection and revisions.

Brainstorming assistance

Help your child brainstorm ideas by engaging in open and meaningful conversations. Encourage them to explore their passions, experiences, and values that could be compelling essay topics.

Provide direction, not content

Guide your child by asking thought-provoking questions and offering suggestions, but ensure they maintain ownership of their essays. Encourage them to express their unique voice and perspectives.

Support means giving direction not content
Image by storyset on Freepik

Research expert opinions

Look for credible resources or articles online that provide insights into the college essay process. Share helpful tips and advice from experts to support your child’s understanding and approach.

Manage expectations

Discuss the importance of balance and realistic expectations. Help your child understand that the college essay is just one part of the application process and that their worth extends beyond their essays.

Provide resources

Share books, websites, or workshops that guide writing college essays. These resources can provide valuable tools and techniques to enhance their writing skills.

Celebrate accomplishments

Recognize and celebrate each milestone achieved during the essay writing process. Offer praise and encouragement to boost your child’s confidence and motivation.

How can you provide guidance rather than content?

Here are some ways you can guide your child without crossing the line into writing their college essays for them:

Prompt evaluation

Familiarize yourself with the essay prompts provided by the colleges or universities your child is applying to. Help them analyze and understand the expectations of each prompt, discussing potential approaches and angles they can explore.

Proofread for grammar

Offer to proofread your child’s essays for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. By providing a fresh pair of eyes, you can help catch any mistakes or inconsistencies they might have missed.

Provide constructive feedback

Instead of rewriting their essays, provide thoughtful feedback that helps improve their writing. Focus on areas such as clarity of ideas, organization, coherence, and the overall impact of their essay. Encourage them to revise and refine their work based on your suggestions. Make sure to read essay writing tips to ensure this.

Advice for rejection letter season

A rejection letter for college is a formal notification sent to a student by a college or university informing them that their application for admission has been denied. It is disappointing for the student who hoped to secure a spot at that particular institution. Rejection letters typically provide a brief explanation or a generic response stating that the applicant’s qualifications or fit for the college did not meet the criteria or competition for admission.

Validate their feelings

Receiving a rejection letter can be challenging for your child, and it’s important to acknowledge their disappointment. Let them know it’s okay to feel upset or frustrated, and assure them that their feelings are valid. Remind them that many successful people have faced rejection before finding their path to success.

Focus on the bigger picture

Remind your child that the college admissions process is just one part of their journey. Encourage them to reflect on their accomplishments, strengths, and the exciting opportunities ahead. Help them see that there are multiple paths to success and that rejection can redirect them toward a better fit for their future.

Explore other options

Use this opportunity to explore alternative colleges or universities that may better fit your child’s goals and aspirations. Encourage them to consider different pathways, such as community colleges, transfer options, or gap year programs. Remind them that there are numerous opportunities to thrive academically and personally.

Celebrate future possibilities

Shift the focus from disappointment to excitement about future possibilities. Help your child envision new opportunities, new friendships, and new adventures that await them. Encourage them to stay positive, remain resilient, and embrace the journey ahead.

The big picture

In conclusion, navigating the college admissions process can be a rollercoaster ride of emotions for both parents and students. However, with the proper support and guidance, you can confidently help your child navigate this journey. Remember:

  • Validate your child’s feelings and provide empathy during rejection letter season.
  • Remember the bigger picture, emphasizing that a single rejection does not define their future success.
  • Explore alternative options and encourage your child to consider different pathways that align better with their goals.
  • Celebrate the exciting possibilities and help your child maintain a positive outlook.

At Lessonpal, we understand the importance of personalized support during critical moments like the college admissions process. Whether your child needs help with essay writing, test preparation, or any other academic support, Lessonpal can connect you with experienced tutors to meet their needs.

Frequently asked questions

Is it okay to write about depression in a college essay? 

It is acceptable to share an experience with mental illness, including depression, in a college essay. However, the key is to ensure that the essay effectively demonstrates how they’ve reflected, who they are as a person, and how this experience has shaped them into a strong candidate for that school.

What is the role of the college essay?

The role of a college essay is to provide students with an opportunity to showcase their personal qualities, experiences, and perspectives to college admissions committees. It goes beyond academic achievements and test scores, allowing students to convey their unique voices and demonstrate their potential as a valuable addition to the college community. This guide to college essay writing for parents should help you support your child with this process.

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