Many parents find the college application process incredibly stressful–“nervewracking,” as one parent put it. Her son, a senior at Lyme-Old Lyme HS, had been laboring over his college essays for several weeks but had resisted her help. Although she had tried giving tactful feedback, this seemed to shut him down further and add tension to an already stressful process.
This scenario seems common. I’ve spoken with many parents over the years whose attempts to help a child with college app essays met with similarly negative results. For various reasons, teenagers tend to accept writing feedback more easily from adults who aren’t their parents than from parents.
This may have something to do with brain development. In the first line of his forward to The Adolescent Brain: A Second Window of Opportunity, Anthony Lake notes that “Few things irritate adolescents more than being told what to do – or how to think” [Eds, Nikola Balvin and Prerna Banati, UNICEF 2017). So, perhaps the brain of the typical high school senior interprets writing advice of any kind from a parent as “being told what to do – or how to think.”
This makes the help of a third-party writing tutor or teacher invaluable. An expert writing tutor can provide support during the entire process, from brainstorming to editing. Time and time again I’ve worked with students who had been “stuck” for weeks prior to our first meeting; within an hour, we managed to identify a meaningful topic or two and develop into initial essay drafts. Our non-parental relationship helped remove the fear of judgment and free up thinking.
An effective writing coach creates a pathway for students to uncover their own “stories” and shape these stories into clear, engaging, and authentic essays, without usurping the student’s voice in the process. So enlisting the help of a good writing tutor not only lifts the burden from parents, but also saves time and reduces the overall stress of applying to colleges!
For students with hectic schedules or who live some distance from a good writing tutor, “virtual” writing support provides an excellent option! Although based in CT, I’ve provided “virtual” writing feedback on college app essays for students living out of state. Most recently, I worked with a high school senior all the way from Arizona. Besides being geographically remote, he was “one busy guy,” as his mother explained. Communicating by email and Google Docs made it easy to accommodate both the time difference and his packed schedule. After he sent each essay, I responded with comments and editing suggestions. The process was incredibly flexible and efficient, and even better, the student was accepted by his top choice university, Duke!