Three tips to get started on your senior’s college application essays
As the new school year kicks off, it’s time for high school seniors to tackle their college application essays – Nov. 1 early application deadlines are coming fast! Here are top tips from new Stroll Parkwood Knolls sponsor MN College Essay Coach on how your senior can ace their college essays:
Take a strategic approach
It can be tempting for your student to dive right into essay writing to get them done, but please resist this urge! An executive would never show up for a media interview and default to only talking about what the journalist chose to ask them. They’ve prepared in advance for what they want to talk about, and they look for every opportunity to share those key messages throughout the interview.
That’s exactly how your student should approach their college admissions essays. Just like an executive, they’re also marketing a product (themselves) to an audience (college admissions). So, before considering the questions your student will need to respond to via their essays, they should stop and identify their key messages.
How? Help your student think about everything they’ve done in high school – visit MNCollegeEssayCoach.com/worksheet for a free tool that will help them get it all down on paper. Then, look for patterns and trends that say something meaningful about your student. In the worksheet example, Camila identifies a trend of leadership across many of her activities, so she chooses to focus one of her key messages on being a natural leader in everything she does.
Once your student has identified their key messages, then it’s time to determine which essay prompts they’ll respond to (yes, they have choices!). When a student has taken the time to decide in advance what they want to proactively share about themselves, the right essay prompts to answer will become much clearer.
In addition to being a more strategic way to approach the essay writing process, key messages help your student elevate how they talk about themselves. They’re making higher-level connections about their achievements to date (e.g., Camila as a natural leader vs. Camila as basketball captain or Sunday School teacher). And, you’ll see in the worksheet an opportunity for your student to proactively connect their past accomplishments to what it means about their future success on campus – which is exactly what college admissions is trying to determine by having them write their essay in the first place. This is far more sophisticated communication than what most students will do, and your student will stand out from the crowd as a result.
Identify (and manage) gaps
As your student looks holistically at their experience to create key messages, they may identify gaps. Maybe they don't have many extracurriculars, or their academics weren’t stellar earlier in high school. While it’s too late to fill those gaps now, they can be reframed. For example, your student may not have done formal volunteering, but they shovel snow for their elderly neighbor. That absolutely counts! Consider whether there are ways to highlight smaller contributions or achievements. Similarly, if your student experienced a disruption to their normal activities during the pandemic, think about what they did do during this time, and look for ways to highlight how they were productive in other ways.
Keep running the race
It’s natural for students to breathe a sigh of relief once accepted to their ideal college, but they need to maintain positive momentum throughout their senior year. In many cases, failure to successfully complete high school requirements could result in revoked acceptance. Continued academic and extracurricular engagement is particularly important if your student ends up on a college’s waitlist.
The college essay writing process can feel daunting! MN College Essay Coach exists to help your student stand out from the crowd through their admissions essays. Visit MNCollegeEssayCoach.com/1-1Coaching to learn more about how we can support you and your student.
Stef Tschida leads the team at MN College Essay Coach, where she and her team apply the same communication principles from their experience at companies like UnitedHealth Group, Medtronic, Carlson, General Mills, Target and more to helping high school students get into their dream schools. Stef also leads Tschida Communications, where she and her team help small and mid-sized businesses and nonprofits clearly communicate to those who matter to their success.
Stef holds a master’s in strategic communication from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and has a certification in College Access Counseling from Rice University.