Q & A: How Parents Can Help Their Students
by Jocelyn Johnson, on Jun 26, 2015 1:00:00 PM
This past Wednesday, we hosted a webinar on How Parents Can Lead a Positive College Admissions Process. Carol Barash, PhD, Founder and CEO of Story2, author of Write Out Loud, and former English professor and advisor to the admissions committee at Douglass College, Rutgers University, shared advice and resources for parents of children entering the college admission process, based on her work with over 15,000 students.
Over 100 parents attended and asked some great questions about how they can help their child manage the often agonizing college application essay writing process, without creating additional stress. Here’s a look at some of the top questions and answers from the webinar:
Q: What is the best way for parents to help their child with college admission essays?
Carol Barash (CB): First, have them sign-up for Story2. This may sound counterintuitive, but as parents we need to take a step back and allow students to find their own voice. If they ask “Mom (or Dad), what should I write about?” respond by asking questions to help guide their thinking so they can figure it out for themselves and find their voice, rather than providing your ideas of the “perfect topics.”
Q: What about revision--can parents help with revising their student’s work?
CB: It is important to stay out of directly writing or revising students essays, and at Story2, that is exactly what we do. In the Story2 framework for revision, coaches ask questions to help students help themselves in revising their essays. Yes, the grammar and punctuation ought to be clean, but it is more important to ask questions to help students learn how to write and think with more competency and fluency.
As for who, it is good to have a non-parental adult perform review and provide feedback--this can be a college counselor or an English teacher. The theme is to let your student take the lead, but to provide oversight that will ensure the essay is appropriate and suited for an admissions audience. Direct intervention can risk the authentic feeling of a student’s voice.
Q: What should students write about in their personal statements?
CB: Authentic and personal experiences. The most powerful essays are about moments where they learned and changed, and therefore grew as a person and made a difference. The best essays reveal transformations and character in moments, not in achievements.
Q: How can I help my child, who thinks s/he knows everything about the application process?
CB: Let them take the lead. I think our children tend to know more than they let on. If you don't think your child is listening, back off and wait for them to realize they do not know everything. Eventually, if they need help they will ask questions, and reach out to you, or a teacher, or a guidance counselor.
Q: How should a student know they have landed on a good topic and should stop digging?
CB: This is my favorite question to answer. In some way, it will be a gut feeling that this moment really expresses you. I think a great way to check that you have the right topic is by telling it out loud to others. If a moment is authentic, when you tell it to others the response will be authentic--leaning in and smiling, and words of encouragement “Yes, thats you! That sounds like you!” Your family and friends response to your topic is a great barometer of whether you have found a moment that they would recognize as being you.
One great way to draw from your well of experiences is by writing a little bit everyday, about everyday moments that you find odd or memorable. You will notice days when things are different. You can use those stories to reveal and talk about parts of yourself that are good or bad, moments you learned or made mistakes, things you imagined about the world and ways you have changed. The important thing is to tell stories only you can tell, as only you can tell them. That's a process that goes on your whole life, but you will know when you have told a story that is both vulnerable and honest enough that it reveals something about you that nobody else could say.