You’ve made sure your teen has gotten the grades, the extracurriculars, and the required number of community service hours. All that stands in the way of their college acceptance is a pitch-perfect personal essay. Here are seven important tips to help master the genre and land your teen at the school of your dreams.

1. Start early

Most successful college essays require multiple rounds of brainstorming, drafting, and rewriting. Although you can wait to begin the process until the summer before senior year, consider starting by fall of junior year. Every minute spent waiting in the car for your teen (be it at a sporting event, band practice, food pantry volunteering, student government meeting, part-time job, animal rescue league volunteering, National Honor Society council, dance recital, debate club, assisted-living volunteering, or therapist) is an opportunity to take notes and begin crafting your essay.

2. Stick to a single story

Most college essays cover too much ground. 300-500 words is simply not enough room to showcase all of your teen’s accomplishments. So don’t write about how he learned everything from his parents, despite how true that may be. Instead, write about one specific lesson you taught him. Extra points if it involves your teen’s struggle to overcome your helicopter parenting.

3. Avoid clichés

Keep away from terms like “clean slate” or “penny pincher.” Today’s kids have had neither. The same goes for “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Also, don’t forget to use “to be honest”; be sure to start at least one sentence with that phrase. If you don’t, the admissions committee will smell fraud from a mile away.

4. Check your grammar and spelling

Teens heavily rely on autocorrect and Grammarly; use these services to make sure that your essay doesn’t get quickly dismissed. Don’t hesitate to slightly overuse/employ/wield a thesaurus as well. Words matter/are important/have influence!

5. Tailor your essay to each institution

You’re not writing a college essay; you’re writing ten college essays, catered to each institution. Schools don’t need generic appraisals of their world-renowned faculty or gourmet dining or five-star residence halls. They know why you want your teen to attend. What schools don’t know is why they want your teen. What activities do you plan to sign her up for? What talents will she bring to the community? What will this 18-year-old extension of yourself, who fills each and every hole of regret in your weary soul, do to stand out like the bright raging star you’ve groomed her to be during her time on campus?

6. Don’t give into the senior slump

Colleges with towering piles of prospective students only want those who don’t give up after their applications are in. Writing for your teen doesn’t just stop after you complete his college essay. Make sure all of your teen’s senior-year writing is as good or better than the admissions essay you write for him.

7. Self-examine

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you really are the best person to be writing your teen’s college essay. “Be yourself” is the most common advice given to applicants, and for good reason: an admissions committee wants to see a sincere, relatable human reflected in your son’s or daughter’s personal statement. With so many college admissions consultants available, you may be putting your teen at a disadvantage if you aren’t up to to the task of writing their story… HA-HA-HA-HA, just kidding! OF COURSE you are the right person to be writing their college essay. You’ve come so far, so why risk them screwing it up?

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