There was an interview article entitled Early Decision in Inside Higher Education, which examined the issue of having a tutor or other professional help write your child's college admissions essay. It got me thinking about the type of parent who feels he or she must always 'improve' their child's work. That includes things like admissions essays, which are supposed to be their children's work.
Well, the article to which I referred above focused on college admissions essays. Might not the same practice take place in private secondary schools? I suppose it is possible but probably unlikely. I remember when I was interviewing students for R-E-S-P-E-C-T Academy in Nassau, Bahamas. Part of the interview process included having the applicant sit at another table while her parents and I chatted. I gave the applicant a sheet of paper and a pen and asked her to write a paragraph or two about some simple topic such as "My favorite meal" or something like that. There was absolutely no way the parents could interfere with their child's writing. She had to do it all by herself.
Think of the admissions essay as a snapshot
Why is writing your own admissions essay so important? Because the admissions staff wants to know what your child thinks, what her opinions are, and how she arrives at those conclusions. An essay synthesizes so many things that your child has learned over the years. An essay provides a window into your child's thinking and experiences.
Are you worried that your child's essay won't be as good as other candidates for admission? Whether the essay is good or bad is not the issue. That's not the point of the essay. Think of the essay as a snapshot of your child at that specific point in time. Essays are also just one part of the picture which the admissions office is building of your child. Test scores, transcripts, and the interview round out that picture. It is the composite or complete profile which the admissions staff need to see and understand.
This video from AdmissionsQuest explains how to handle the admissions interview.
Essays are only one part of the admissions process.
That's the way most private school admissions offices work. They will meet you when you come for the formal school visit. Then without fuss or fanfare, your child is asked to sit at a desk and write a few words about something she knows about. It doesn't take long. And there's absolutely no doubt about who wrote the essay.
The point of the admissions essay is to try to see your child as she is. A spelling mistake or a lapse in syntax doesn't matter much. What is much more important is how she expresses herself.
That brings me back to the question in the title of this article. Should you get help to write your child's admissions essay? Somewhere in most private school applications is something called The Candidate's Statement. This exercise is written at home. No admissions staffer is watching. It's just your daughter's writing alone. And you. So, do you read it after she has finished writing her essay or short answers to the questions the school has asked? In my opinion, absolutely not. Those should be her answers expressed in her own words. Not yours. Not edited by you. Let her answer the questions in her own words.
Are you worried that a poorly written essay will jeopardize her chances of admission? Assuming that her academic transcripts and teacher recommendations tell a very different story, a so-so essay shouldn't matter that much. However, if her academic performance and teacher recommendations indicate serious academic deficiencies, that's another story. Essentially the admissions staff are concerned about two things: can your child do the academic work, and will she fit in?
This video offers advice on how to write an admissions essay.
Another point to consider concerning helping your child write her admissions essay is that having her do this task on her own equips her for similar functions in the years ahead. This is the first of many essays which she will have to write on applications for schools, college, and eventually employment. You will not be allowed to hover in the room some human resources professional has assigned her so that she can write answers to questions employers always ask. "What was your most significant achievement in....?" "Who have you looked up to as role models?" "Why do you want to join our team?"
Knowing the questions she will have to answer, wouldn't it be prudent to prep her so that at least she's pretty much on topic. After all, who's to know? Trust me, the savvy, professional admissions staffers will spot the difference between the answers on her Candidates' Statement and the short essay she will have to write in their presence. It just doesn't make sense to interfere with the process. Your child will do just fine.
This video discusses the issue of helicopter parents.
On the other hand, things like admissions essays and candidate's statements offer teaching moments, don't they? She will have to learn to express herself and communicate her message regularly as an adult, right? So why not start at an early age and help her articulate those ideas. Help her understand concepts. Show her how to connect the dots to make sense of facts and events.
Please understand that you should allow her to express her ideas and opinions freely. You may disagree with her. But teaching is also about dialog. Explaining other points of view in a non-confrontational manner is part of what we parents do. Unless you are training her to be a despot, she must be able to see somebody else's point of view. As with most things in parenting, you will need huge amounts of patience.
Teach her that her point of view is just that: her point of view. It may or may not be the 'right' point of view. Or the popular point of view. If you have shown her how to frame a good argument so that her point of view is sound, then you have done your job.
You know your child better than anybody.
You know your child. You know her strengths and her weaknesses. And you love her. Against that backdrop, it is vital to recognize when your child's academic skill sets need improvement or remediation. Sometimes it helps to have a trusted advisor review progress reports and help you plan a course of action. You may have rationalized why your child isn't doing as well as she could. A trusted advisor will see things as they are and offer your advice and encouragement. It is always a good idea to fix things before they blossom into a serious deficiency.
Should you get help with your child's admission essay? Not with the essay per se. But enriching your child's experiences, opening new worlds, and exposing her to new and perhaps different ideas will have a beneficial effect on her admissions essay and just about everything else she does. That's a good thing.
Guide. Direct. Offer advice. We parents always have to be reference points. We must always be ready to share our personal experiences honestly. We understand the pitfalls when it comes to applying for just about anything. We know what works and what does not. Discuss. Suggest. Offer help. But as with most things in your child's progress towards adulthood, let her learn to do things by herself.
Think of your child's admissions essay as one more rite of passage. You have been molding and shaping her since she was born. The thought processes and writing skills which she will use while composing her essay were formed many years ago. That's the main reason why you need to step back and watch her manage for herself. Relax. She will do just fine.
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