We’re in the thick of the college essay-writing season with our seniors and maybe you are too!

There’s an excellent book we recommend to help get the job done: the better college essay by elizabeth stone, phd.

One of our favorite distinctions early in the book is that essays can be truly challenging for students because the questions/prompts that are provided are generally at an “adult” psychological level understanding. They ask the student to reflect and provide insights on a particular experience. The average teen is at a much earlier stage of psychological development and so answering most college essay prompts is like speaking a foreign language for them. Really.

This is where a mentor working with the student over a period of time, can really assist him or her in refining, reflecting and integrating; all keys to creating an outstanding essay. This can be a challenge if a student is only just getting started writing (with the nov. 1 submission deadline looming). So, if you’ve not started already, time to get writing and refining! And, parents, the best thing you can do for you son or daughter is to partner with them as a mentor. That means no “red ink” until probably the 5th to 8th revision. Up until then, it’s a process of curiously asking the student questions to help them clarify what exactly they’re trying to say in their essay. Your feedback helps the story become richer, clearer, and more insightful. Don’t give them the answers. The deep telling is something the student has to discover and uncover on their own. (trust us, colleges know when a parent has taken over writing for their students. It’s easy for a pro to spot “parent interference” when reading dozens of essays a day. And that understanding will not bode well for your son or daughter’s application.)

Dr. Stone calls the mentoring process “editing without a pen.” remember, the mentor is there to give verbal feedback, ask questions, help the student to reflect, integrate and discover with the goal of the student showing they have a depth of understanding of self. The student is going to do all the rest.

Once the student has composed a heart-felt, rich, and layered story that really speaks to who they are, then (and only then) is it time to pull out that red pen and to correct the grammar.

So, how do you know when the essay is done? When there’s not another question to ask because the essay is so clear, so revealing of who the student is (and not just what they’ve done), then it’s time to send it along to the college.

Good luck! And let us know if we can help you in any way.

-mike mckinnon, ccps
College planners of america, ltd.