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3 Unexpected Questions Parents Are Asking About College Applications

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Oct 3, 2014 5:43:00 PM

The college application process can often be equally as stressful for parents as it is for high school seniors, especially when it comes to the college essay. With the pressure to do all they can to help their child get in to their “dream school,” many parents tell me they find it challenging to balance providing constructive criticism and being supportive and encouraging.

Last night, I spoke at the New York Parents League about college admission and scholarship essays, and ended the discussion, as always, with a question and answer session.

One mother raised her hand. “Carol, you mentioned the Common App essay, but I was wondering. My son is applying to 10 schools, and he has over 10 supplement essays to write as well. Are they as important?”

“That is a great question!” I said.

And it wasn’t the only one! I realized that many parents—and students—could benefit from the answers to the questions I discussed last night, so below are 3 of the most interesting questions and their answers.

1). Are supplement essays as important as the Common App essay?

Yes! (I know, it would be easier if they weren’t.) However, in some cases, supplement essays may not only be as important as the Common App essay, they might even be more. In this excellent piece from the Washington Post, admissions officers from George Washington University repeatedly reveal the importance of the “Why GW?” supplement essay: it comes up again and again in their deliberations. “How’s their ‘Why GW?’” they ask.  “Great,” they respond. “Clear they really know why they’d fit in here.”

Supplement essays are the ultimate proof of fit to admissions officers. Do students demonstrate an understanding of the college’s academic mission and climate? Do they reveal that they’re excited to be a part of the college’s community? The University of Chicago is looking for the intellectually curious and flexible. Scripps College wants students who are interested in interdisciplinary thought. George Washington is looking for active students who are looking for internships in DC’s teeming workforce; Rice, for service learners.

Your child should assume their supplement essays could be the deciding factor between a “wish we could” and a “we’ve got to have him.”

2.) How long does it usually take students to write their essays from start to finish?

It’s officially October, which means Early Decision and Action deadlines are less than a month away. Time is weighing on everyone’s mind.

I’ve seen the 650 word Common App essay take as little as four hours to complete. I’ve also seen some essays take eight hours or more. I recommend students budget a four hour session to start (Story2, our online interactive platform provides a dynamic method of producing the first draft), and then several 1-2 hour revision sessions over the coming weeks.

Be sure to take breaks and Refresh before each session! The brain needs calm in order to focus and reach its greatest creative peaks.

How will they know when it’s done? Have your child read their essay aloud in front of a mirror. Ask them, “do you feel like this shows the real you?” If the answer is yes, it’s done.

3.) Should my child use slang in her essay?

Short answer: possibly! Students’ essays should, above all, sound like them. In fact, colloquialisms are probably more appropriate than an awkwardly-placed SAT word.

One of the most important aspects of a successful college essay is an authentic voice. In other words, the essay should sound like your child—it should echo the way they talk. Adding dialogue is one of the most effective ways to give a college essay the authenticity of a real life experience.

So including phrases like “Hey, buddy!” or “What’s up?” is great, as is the use of any language other than English your child regularly speaks or hears (as long as it’s gracefully translated). Our packet of example essays, 4 College Essays and Why They Worked, has a great example of Italian used in-essay.

All this aside, students should follow accepted grammar rules, use “said” instead of “like,” and stay away from cursing. Colloquial language is like spice: a little is delightful, but too much ruins the soup.

What are your questions about college application and scholarship essays? Let me know in the comments, and I might add to this list!

Topics:college admission