The Why and How of College Essays

My Ideal College shares what colleges are looking for in a student's essay.

Last week, I provided ideas on how to help your teen when they’re reluctant to write their college essay. I fully empathize with these teens, as writing does not come naturally to me. Remember, the process doesn’t have to start with a blank screen or a piece of paper. You can click here to read my ideas in case you missed it.

Let’s talk about why colleges ask applicants to write an essay.

Think of a college like a business. They bring in candidates for open positions.  For each position, they want to make sure each candidate will:

  • succeed
  • contribute
  • be a positive reflection of the business

The same is true for colleges. They want to see all three attributes from each student they bring in. The only difference is they want students who will be a positive reflection of the college long after they graduate. They also want students who can write well and support their ideas with logical arguments.

So how does a college measure this for each applicant?

Businesses are able to bring in candidates for interviews and ask questions about strengths, values, challenges, and how they conquer obstacles. For a college, it’s not possible to have one-on-one interviews with each applicant. Did you know approximately 1.5 million high school students apply to college each year? Colleges overcome the challenge of learning about each applicant by requiring a college essay.

The college essay needs to help an admissions counselor understand a prospective student’s best qualities. This can be a challenging task for a high school student, especially if the student is shy or has low self-esteem. One way to help your child identify their strengths is to have them brainstorm times when they felt like they accomplished something. What specifically did they do to achieve that accomplishment?  Maybe they persevered, even though it was a tough situation.  Maybe they set out a plan and tasks to achieve a goal, or maybe they were able to influence others to help achieve a goal. All of these are great strengths for a teen to highlight in their essay.

The question colleges use a writing prompt for the essay can vary. Many colleges now use the Common Application. You can click here to see what questions are used. The applicant only needs to pick one question to use for their essay.

Would you like to help your child with writing their essay? Check out our Best Foot Forward Package.  In 20 minutes, your child will receive an ego-boosting report that outlines all of their greatest strengths. They can use the data in the report as a starting point to help them elaborate on what makes them stand out from all the other college applicants.

For more details, email us at support@myidealcollege.org.

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