College Admissions Essays
Q. How can I help my
daughter make her writing samples the best they can be for college admissions
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
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
-- 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
Homework: For more on changes
being made to the college admissions tests, see www.collegeboard.com and www.act.org