Is your senior struggling with the college essay?

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Save Your Relationship; Leave it to the Pros

College Essay
credit: The Journal

As if today’s rising high school seniors don’t face enough pressure—about where they’ll apply to college, if they’ll get in, whether they’re making the right choice—there’s the looming hurdle of the college application itself. Sure, high school college counselors likely advised rising seniors to grind it out during the summer months. And if you have a child who actually followed this sage advice, congratulations. You’re in the minority.

When it comes to prodding your teenager about completing college applications, it’s not always easy to decide on the best and winningest strategy. You could pester and cajole and remind and generally nag about it. Or, you might take the hands-off approach; after all, this is a child who’s close to, if not already, 18—by some standards, a legal adult. That said, should you really have to hold her hand throughout the painstaking process, especially its most angst-producing element: the college essay?

It’s hard to say. But, given the weight that higher education experts attach to the college essay, it’s no surprise some parents do. Case in point: “The essay is an applicant’s chance to step into the spotlight for a few moments and transform a collection of statistics and activities into a vital presence,” observes Michael Beseda, vice provost for Strategic Enrollment Management at the University of San Francisco. That’s heavy. No wonder parents are inclined to weigh in on this “transformative” essay.

But what happens when you do provide input, from helping your college applicant generate ideas to suggesting smooth transitions between paragraphs to giving it a final proof? Somewhere along the way, unless your almost-adult child is extremely laid-back and/or malleable, your relationship may begin to feel the strain of this input. After all, this is a personal and prideful statement being made to people who have the power to reject or admit this young adult to the college of his or her choice. Is your opinion welcome here? Sure, you may know your child better than anyone else. But does that qualify you to act as editor-in-chief of this capstone essay? And even if so, will your teenager heed your input?

When contemplating the answer to this tough question, I consider the advice that one very wise teacher gave me when my son entered high school: Let us do the teaching, and you just focus on your relationship with your child as a parent. I liked that advice. It made me feel like I could breathe a little easier. I still can’t help but ask the occasional: “Have you done your homework?” But for the most part, per that teacher’s suggestion, I’ve decided to leave issues concerning schoolwork between my son and the professionals. So far, it’s working out fairly well.

As my daughter approaches her senior year of high school, I’m planning to apply the same tactic to her college essay. I’ll eagerly offer my input if she asks for it, but she’s already warned me that she doesn’t plan to to show me any version of her essay—not the first draft, the fourth, or the final. And that’s okay by me. I know she’ll get it done eventually, and I think she’ll do a fine job. And she’ll probably hit her deadlines and listen to editorial suggestions much more willingly if the input doesn’t come from her mother.


Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and editor. She has published more than a dozen essays in various media outlets and has served as an editor for teen writers of Imagine, a magazine published by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. She also provides college-bound students with editorial consulting services for their college essays. To contact her, email [email protected] or visit her website at eheubeck.com.


 

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