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5 College Essay Tips for Parents

Ivy Divider

lifesaver college essay tips for parentsBrace yourself for what we are about to say: parents can be helpful in the college essay writing process. Yes, it’s true. Though this may be hard to believe – whether you are a parent or a high schooler – we believe that parents may actually be a powerful secret weapon when used correctly. Of course, there is a fine line between helping and taking over, motivating and commanding, so we’ve put together a list of the top things parents should and shouldn’t do during this crazy time.

So, if you’re a parent or guardian, take heart, you have an important place in this process (even as you see your kids growing up). And high schoolers, don’t worry, we respect your space. Make sure to forward this list to mom and/or dad so that they know what to do.

1. Start early.

When you enter the insanity that is college admissions, everyone needs to be on the same page about timeline. There is A LOT of writing involved, so the earlier you get started, the better. The Common App prompts are already out so now is a great time to look them over and do some preliminary brainstorming. Parents, this could mean that you do a little nagging in the next few months, or it could mean that you help your kids get organized and protect their time by making sure their schedules are not overloaded. (Pro tip: there are only 24 hours in a day.)

2. Understand that this is a process.

As we tell our students all the time, great writing doesn’t happen overnight. It won’t happen in one sitting and it definitely won’t happen without effort. It’s important to remember this when looking over early drafts. Don’t be too hard on your college hopefuls, and don’t let them be too hard on themselves. Frustration and procrastination are often symptoms of perfectionism, and you can play a key role in helping manage stress and expectations.

3. Make yourself a resource.

Your memory is a goldmine. You remember SO MUCH that your kids may not be able to recall. Encourage them to ask you questions, to look through old photo albums with you, or to mine your memory in other ways. The kinds of details that you can recall may spark new ideas and will definitely contribute colorful details to the narrative.

4. Remember whose essay this is.

As much as you may know or remember, at the end of the day, this essay is not supposed to represent your memories or feelings or worldview. While your thoughts may be helpful during the early phases of the writing process, it’s important for you to step back as the essay develops. You know, like that time you finally let go of the bicycle seat.

5. Know when it’s time to ask for outside help.

Under the intense pressure of the college admissions process, tempers can flare and otherwise copacetic relationships can become strained. As much as parental involvement can help during the writing process, that doesn’t mean it definitely will help. Sometimes it can feel like extra pressure and scrutiny. Distance can be your friend, and there’s no shame in calling for a mediator during this trying time. That’s what we’re for. Our lines are always open.

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