Applying to college is an extremely stressful time in students’ lives and typically nothing causes more anxiety than writing the required college essays. After working so hard to do well in multiple AP courses, ace standardized tests, and compile an impressive resume of extra-curricular activities, application essays are an important opportunity to stand out from the crowd. For many of our students aspiring to highly selective colleges, this often means a staggering 25-35 essays to complete. While these essays are a huge opportunity, the sheer amount of work can be overwhelming!
Regardless of whether you are applying to the Ivy League or not, almost every college applicant must complete the Common Application and the required “Personal Statement.” To write your best and stay sane in the process, avoid these common pitfalls.
Accepting Quality Guidance and Feedback
We routinely hear from parents, particularly of high achievers, that their son or daughter is adamant that they don’t need any help, and even if they did, they don’t want it from Mom or Dad. Students want to know they got accepted to college “on their own.” This is an admirable Emersonian sentiment, but leads to disappointment if students don't apply the polish needed for success.
From a 1-5 scale, top colleges require "level 5 answers" on essays, and our very best students are writing level 3 and level 4 answers. This is not because they struggle with writing, but because it is very difficult to find the right story and tell it in a way that best compliments the rest of your application. The Personal Statement simply requires a different type of writing than most students are accustomed to and have developed throughout their education. The goal is to demonstrate your personality, character, and growth of your intellectual curiosity and vitality.
These DIY students are sometimes reading a lot on the internet and taking advice from perfect strangers who do not know them at all. Researching online isn't bad, but trying to imitate others can often be quite limiting or a constant source of frustration when constantly comparing their own initial drafts to excellent finished essays. Alternatively, students may also judge themselves too favorably. Every year we receive calls on December 15 from those who thought they were a shoe-in at their ideal school and were rejected. 9 out of 10 times they have a stellar academic record and experience, but after reading the first paragraph or two of their personal statement, we usually know what happened.
Finding a trusted advisor in the college essay process is key to developing the right voice and crafting statements and essays that encapsulate the best qualities of each student. While accepting tough feedback can be challenging, it's much better than being disappointed down the road by missing out on the dream school.
Getting Too Much Feedback
Opposite of those who are stubborn or overly confident, some students are too open to receiving guidance and feedback on their essays. Like we discussed above, guidance is good, but asking for feedback from too many different people can often produce fear and uncertainty instead of confidence in a quality essay. If you choose to share your essays widely, know that parents will have the certain perspective, friends and siblings will react differently, and a teacher or counselor may make contradictory suggestions. Listening and trying to incorporate everybody’s ideas or deciding who to ignore can drive you crazy.
Getting feedback is important, but “too many cooks in the kitchen" will dilute the consistency and message of the work. When students are gunshy, we tell them they want to hear your voice, not a 30-something advisor or your parents. Decide ahead of time about who you will work with, how much feedback you want, and what you are going to do with it. Make sure it is somebody who has broad experience and has the time to work with you closely throughout the invention process, multiple revisions, and final polishing.
After helping thousands of students through the college application process, we've seen that it's best to have one trusted advisor that can help students structure and navigate the entire writing process within the context of the rest of their application. This means assistance understanding what the questions are really asking, analyzing a couple example essays, selecting a topic and theme, asking penetrating questions that expand initial content. Your advisor should provide insightful comments and suggestions on how to revise multiple drafts, add polish and last but definitely not least, proofread the final product. A good essay coach will facilitate this in a way that helps you produce writing in your authentic voice and provides the right amount of feedback to inspire success. Do you know your changes of getting into your dream college? Find out using our college admission calculator or speak to an admissions consultant today!