by Santina Nicoletta, College Adviser Southern Wayne High School
College application month is here! For any adviser, this month is highly anticipated as a large amount of time and energy goes into planning four weeks’ worth of events, as well as getting students excited and ready to apply to college!
One of the biggest struggles many of my students are experiencing in preparing to send applications is writing their college essays. I get late night emails from students with subject line entitled “I’m Freaking Out”, and they discuss how they have no idea what to write about or feel as if they “don’t have a story to tell.” So, for all other advisers out there I have a few “best practices” tips to help your students conquer their essay fears!
First- Tell them not to worry about formatting (just yet). Oftentimes, students are so worried about the word count or the “introduction, body, conclusion” format that they let it cloud their minds. I like to tell students if they have an idea, roll with it! Start writing out your story, and then go in and break up the paragraphs and make sure it flows smoothly. Presentations to English classes can help start this initiative!
Second- Get to really know your students! Sometimes taking the time to just sit and talk to them about what is going on in school or their lives will spark an essay topic idea. They often know what they want to major in, but can’t answer why they chose it. Sometimes students will sit and begin talking about a random event that happened in their lives and you see the “light bulb” turn on. Help them to not get wrapped up in the question being answered but to take a life event and creatively find a way to make it fit. Make sure that they don’t just recount a memory or experience, but that they reflect on how it has impacted their lives!
Third- Help them edit, edit, edit! Many of my students write like they talk, which leads to run-on sentences, “text lingo”, and repetitive use of certain words. Their applications are their “first impression” with the school they want to attend, so I always stress that I want it to be their absolute best work before it is sent in. Normally, they are more comfortable with me reading their essays first before a teacher does. Once I edit, I tell them to go get it checked by a third set of eyes (preferably with an English degree background).
Fourth- Have students work on these essays early! College application week is in the middle of November. I have encouraged my students to finish their essays early because they will not have the time to write, edit, and submit multiple applications in a span of 5 days. Doing it early relieves some stress and allows them to just focus on making sure the rest of their application parts are correct!
These are just simple tricks I have learned as I talk with my students. When all else fails, many colleges do not require an essay as part of the application! Have them start those and finish them, then focus on the ones that do require the essay. In the end, every student has a story- sometimes they just need your help pulling it from the bookshelf and dusting it off.