Whose Journey Is This Anyway?
By Susan Knoppow and Kim Lifton
ast year, a young man who came to
us to edit his college essay emailed
a draft with a detail that didn't quite
fit.The story was about rowing and
how it focused him. The out-of-place
detail: the rower compared himself to a
Aside from the squirrel reference,
the student was off to a great start.
His essay was clear and specific, and it
told an important story about him. We
encouraged him to cut the part about
When we discovered that the squir-
rel analogy had been his dad's idea,
we weren't surprised. We see it all the
time. Parents get their hands on their
children's college essays and start try-
ing to fix them. Mom adds a little here,
Dad cuts a little there, all in the name
of love and literary improvement. This
technique never works.
September is prime time for anxious
parents of high school seniors engaged
in the college application process. Our
message to those adults biting your fin-
gernails: Hands offi This is your child's
journey, not yours.
Parental enthusiam to
help with college essays
can be a distraction.
Sure, you still pay the bills, and you
can make sure your kids meet the
important deadlines. For the most part,
however, students should complete
their applications on their own, particu-
larly when it comes to their essays.
You might be thinking,"How can I
expect a kid who can't remember to
put gas in the car to manage the appli-
cation process?" Good question, but we
still recommend taking a step back.
What if your daughter wants to write
about Dr. Seuss? Is that an accept-
able subject for an application essay?
Absolutely. It's a great subject if she has
a great story to tell.
What if your son's writing sounds im-
mature? What's wrong with a little help
during revision? Everything. He is sup-
posed to sound like a 17-year-old.
Those who read the essays
can tell the differ-
a teen voice
and an adult voice. Your words don't
belong in his essay.
We all want our children to succeed;
college is critically important. But the
truth is, you should not heavily edit
your child's application essays — and
you most definitely should not write
No matter what the prompt, a col-
lege essay is not about a job, a vaca-
tion, an illness, a book or an influential
person; it is about the student — what
he or she learned, gained or realized as
a result of the experience. As a parent,
you can help the most by keeping your
child focused on the essay's purpose.
It can be hard for kids to write about
themselves, especially when it really
matters. Done right, completing a col-
lege essay should leave students feeling
empowered, confident in their own
abilities and certain of their words.
And please, don't suggest your child
compare himself to a squirrel. Save the
cleverness for your own prose. N.7
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SUSAN KNOPPOW and KIM LIFTON
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HOW TO BE HELPFUL WITHOUT CROSSING THE LINE;
11 Offer encouragement. No one knows your child better than you. Encourage
your daughter to express herself in her own voice, in her own words. Yes, she
really can do this — and she can do it well.
II Be realistic. An essay should be well-written, but it should sound like it was
composed by a high school student. Admissions officers can tell the difference
between a heartfelt, well-crafted essay and a submission so highly polished it
11 Get a head start. For many students, the essay is the hardest part of the col-
lege application process; start as soon as possible to allow time for revision.
11 Read, but don't criticize. Read drafts and offer your opinion, but don't go
too far. Ask clarifying questions. Engage in a conversation with your child to
figure out what he is trying to say about himself. Save the editor's pencil for
misspelled words and grammatical errors.
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