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What to know

•  The purpose of a college essay is for admissions people to find out more about who you are as a student and person and how well you write.

•  Most college applications contain very short answer questions, short answer essays, and long answer essays.

•  While student numbers—test scores and grades—are critical factors in the making of admission decisions, essays may be just as important, especially for the more selective colleges.

•  Even if you have great test scores and grades, a poorly written essay can lessen your chances of acceptance. On the other hand, if your numbers are mediocre, but essays are great, your chances of acceptance might be enhanced.

•  The taboo subjects for college essays are sex, your use of alcohol or drugs, personal struggles with eating disorders, suicide, or mental illness; your family’s dysfunction; revelations of stealing or shop-lifting; negative attitudes.

•  Subjects about which admissions people feel burnt out:  Predictable books such as Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby; travelogues; the catch, hit or basket that won the game; wanting to save the world.

•  All good students make use of trusted people to give them feedback, editing and/or proofreading for their college application essays. 

•  Many first essays can be recycled to answer other college essay questions. BUT make sure that you edit the essay to fit the question and the college.


What to know

The 7 Steps For Writing An Admissions Essay:

1.  Set aside a block of time, in a place that is free of distractions

2.  Identify the question you are going to answer

3.  Brainstorm ideas for a topic to answer the question, looking for a theme or topic that fits the question

4.  Choose a topic

5.  Gather your ideas and materials for the chosen topic

6.  Organize all your random thoughts and write a first draft

7.  Edit, edit, and edit your draft


What to know

senior year

The summer before your senior year
From The Common Application (and individual college Supplements) or websites of schools that don’t use the Common App, identify the essay questions for each of your schools.

Write them out on a separate document so that you can keep track of them.

For each essay question on every application, choose a topic. Then brainstorm ideas for the topics, including your personal stories and anecdotes.

July, August, and September
Write first drafts, edit and complete essays for early application colleges.

October, November, December
Write first drafts, edit and complete essays for any applications with December and January deadlines.

Complete or recycle any remaining essays for applications due in January or later.


When to do it

A perfect role for parents to take in the essay phase of college applications is chief brainstormer and note taker during brainstorming sessions. While some parents can also play an editor role, many students do better when someone other than a parent edits their essays. You might want to leave your child's essay editing to teachers, counselors, and friends who are good writers/editors. But that decision is up to your and your teen. And don't forget to tell your kid how much you love him or her.

by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz
Excerpted from adMISSION POSSIBLE® (Sourcebooks, Inc, April 2012)

If you want to know more about this and other admissions topics, read
Getting into the Best Colleges for you
. Order it here!



adMISSION POSSIBLE® is committed to every student having access to the best college admissions advice available free
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