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College Admissions Essays


Q. How can I help my daughter make her writing samples the best they can be for college admissions purposes?


Not to be facetious, but make sure you're in a district with good writing instruction. How can you tell? While your child is still in early grade school, visit the local high school that your child would attend if you stay in that district. Go right after school when teachers are still at their desks. Ask to see some writing samples. If they appear to your liking, rejoice. But if they're lousy, think hard about staying in that district.


Fortunately, because of increasing attention to the quality of writing samples that are part of massive assessment processes these days, and college admissions, too, teachers all the way up and down the K-12 line are taking note of the importance of outstanding writing for entry into many colleges and universities these days, and that's good.


A good essay will present unique and novel ideas in an arresting way, with beauty of language and profundity of insight. A student is not going to be able to crank out a piece of writing like that out of the clear blue sky. That means if your school is not insisting on quality writing all through the years, you're going to have to homeschool or afterschool your child.


Besides writing practice, kids will need:


-- Penmanship instruction. When you take care to form your letters right, you tend to take care to form your words, sentences and paragraphs right, too. Messy handwriting leads to messy thinking, for the most part. There are those geniuses who are exceptions, but remember - they're exceptions.


-- Quality literature, K-12. Expose your child to good books if you expect your child to be a good writer. Garbage in, garbage out, they say. Many districts have descended into "junk books" for assigned reading because of declining reading skills. As a result, students often lack the content from which to draw good ideas. If you never read great writing, it's pretty tough to emulate it. So if your school's assigned reading is mediocre to poor, your child's writing ability is likely to follow suit.


-- Students need "reps" in writing subskills such as elaboration techniques, vocabulary enrichment, metaphors, rhetoric, humor and other methods of framing an argument and nailing it tight. Your local bookstore might have a resource to help your child work on those skills.


-- Students need "reps" in daily writing, self-editing and error correction. Encourage a journal.


-- Consider paying a writing tutor for your child for several months or a year in mid-high school to prepare for college admission essays.


Homework: For more on changes being made to the college admissions tests, see and


By Susan Darst Williams Writing 14 2008


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