What is your approach to helping students with application essays?

Anne Macleod WeeksAnne Macleod Weeks
Upper School Director
The Agnes Irwin School
I have a series of questions I ask the student to answer, and from those responses, we narrow down potential topics for their essays—topics that individualize the student and allow him or her to have a clear voice.

Charlotte M. Klaar, Ph.D.Charlotte M. Klaar, Ph.D.
Klaar College Consulting LLC

The essays are the part of the process on which I spend the most time. The common app essay is worked on over the summer, and it is usually completely edited and ready by the beginning of the school year. We begin with a brainstorming session that can run from 15–90 minutes. The student then receives a deadline by which to send me the draft. I tell them that what is to be sent to me is what they would turn in to their teacher for a grade. I also remind them that if the topic is not working for them, they must contact me before the deadline so that we can do additional brainstorming.

Ann HerbenerAnn Herbener
College Counselor
Papillion-La Vista High School
Since I taught English to juniors for 17 years, I worked a lot helping students with their admission essays. Now, that I’m a college counselor, I spend three days in their junior English classes in March conducting an essay workshop.

Suzan ReznickSuzan Reznick
The College Connection
I ask my students key questions which point out some ideas for topics. Then I ask them to tell me more about that particular experience and/or event. The focus is often on how that experience might have had some kind of impact on them and in what way it might have been changed or transformed them. Then they go home and write a rough draft. At the next session, I have the student read out aloud what they have written. That can really assist them with recognizing the rough spots. We discuss together where they need to make changes and why. Then they go home and continue to work on and improve the essays. Often it will take several drafts before they are happy with the final product. 

Heather JohnsonHeather Johnson
Educational Consultant
Heather Johnson Associates
If a student is really stuck on what to say, I have an exercise I propose to them to get them going. Then they may have a few ideas of what to begin writing on and I can guide them. I encourage students to work on two essays to start so they can always go to the other one if they get stuck on the first. I read to edit for grammar and punctuation and I work with them if I think they can phrase things differently or more clearly.

Sandra E. CliftonSandra E. Clifton
Educational Consultant for Social & Emotional Learning
Clifton Corner: An Academic Coaching Center.
Each essay is a unique journey—and as a former high school English teacher, I love helping students discover their distinctive voice. This process is like tuning an instrument that may never have been used before: it can be scary and daunting to reveal your real self on paper. But part of my role is to empower students to be vulnerable and authentic in a way that is both memorable and moving—and often they gain a sense of confidence that was not there before!

Betsy F. WoolfBetsy F. Woolf
Woolf College Consulting
Lots of brainstorming. That’s probably the part of the process that I enjoy the most: the conversation with students that not only generates a topic but also an approach to that topic. The rest involves having the student put the ideas on paper and refining the writing. I was an editor, so I know the value of a second reader.

Stuart NachbarStuart Nachbar
Treat the topic as a conversation at first. Then form the conversation into well-written paragraphs that show a true voice. Should college counselors develop relationships with admission officials, and if so, how do those relationships benefit your students? In some cases they have to develop, especially with the public institutions that are most popular and accessible to their students. The counselor should know the application process for these schools cold and be a trusted resource to the students, parents and the colleges. A counselor should also be able to help students consider and apply to other schools that have more complex applications (selective colleges, the arts, military service academies). But it is next to impossible for so many counselors to develop relationships with those schools unless the high school has sent many successful students to them in the past.

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