The 1 simple tip for making sure your child finds her best possible essay topic is this:

Write the essays for five (5) of your college applications.

Why should your child write the essays for five (5) college applications before submitting her first college application? Isn't that overkill? No, I don't think so. Let me tell you why.

When students write their application essays, they tread on unfamiliar ground. Most students have little to no prior experience writing personal essays. An analytical essay about Moby Dick? No problem. Well, maybe not no problem, but still doable. But a personal essay about who I am and what matters to me? Big problem. There are so many potential topics that students and parents have a hard time figuring out which is most promising.

There really is no way to think or reason this out. We cannot figure out the merits of one topic versus another solely by discussing them. The only way to figure out a good topic is to write it out. And I can tell you that in my experience, even when a student "knows" what she wants to write about, and even after she has "finished" her Common App essay, it is not uncommon for her to uncover a more promising topic or anecdote in essay drafts for other prompts. I would say this happens with 1 in 5 of my students.

Now maybe this is because I'm not that great at helping students figure out their best topics right away. Yes, there is always room for improvement. But I also think this happens because as students grow accustomed to writing about themselves, they loosen up and start to say more interesting stuff.

When I start working with a student, I really have no idea if that particular student will be in the 4 in 5 group who picks the winning topic right from the start or in the 1 in 5 group who discovers a better topic along the way. And even though you are the parent and you know your child well, you probably don't know which group your student belongs to, either!

The most effective way I have found to address this uncertainty about whether we have uncovered the student's best topic is this:

Before your child submits her first college application, she should write the essays for five (5) of her college applications.

If your child does all this writing before submitting her first college app, she will have greater confidence that she has already found her best possible topics. So when you hear me saying, "Start early!" or "Don't wait until fall of senior year to start the essays!" this is why. It takes time to find a student's best writing.


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