7 Ways Parents Could Help Improve College Essays

After your child has made a balanced listing of colleges to apply for, they will likely have many essays between their personal statement and other school supplements. What role can you play if you think your child may need help? What can you do to support your child the most?

Many teenagers need space. But they also have to face a daunting task: Writing a personal statement is a completely different type of writing than what they likely learned in school.

It is possible to wonder if any help could be considered cheating or plagiarism. Or maybe you are worried that your child needs more writing skills. It is important to respect their boundaries and provide the necessary assistance.

It honors your child’s independence and academic integrity while increasing their chances of being accepted to college. The application and writing process can be a way to build relationships with your teenager if done well.


Here are 7 tips to help your child write college essays


The personal declaration is an unusual task. This essay will be different from anything your child has ever written. It can be a mixture of persuasive writing (evidence-based argumentation) or creative nonfiction (memoir), depending on the prompt.

Personal statements are not meant to sound academic and formal like the five-paragraph essay. This is not the place to use your AP English course-level analytical writing skills. The personal statement is not meant to be a listing of accomplishments like a resume. You can use the Activities List to do that, and you’ll find an in-depth guide.

The personal statement is meant to help colleges understand who the student is, what they value, and how they fit into their community. Your child should write a compelling essay, as well as any additional ones. You can make them more conversational, personal, and creative, just like if your child were answering admissions officer questions. This task can be described as poetry mixed with argument. Good storytelling is required. You can read more about that below.

Understanding that your child is about to try something new can help to make you feel more connected and curious. You can be more helpful in being a sounding board for your child by understanding the purpose of their personal statement and how it differs from other writing forms. This will allow you to maintain their independence and integrity.


Understanding the scope of the work is a great way to make what appears daunting manageable. Students need to spend more time understanding the scope of their work and to be able to revise effectively.

The average student spends five to seven hours per week writing a strong personal essay and a few additional essays. This is for six to eight weeks. Your child will require more time if the schools are increased.


  • What time do you think the essay writing process will take your coach, teacher, or coach? This task should be distinguished from writing the Activities List and getting recommendation letters.
  • What do you think the process will take?
  • What is the average time it takes to write the longest essay that you have ever written for school?
  • How many drafts are you used to when writing a longer essay?
  • How much revision is necessary? Are you concerned that this task may need more revisions than you are used to? Each essay that your child writes should have at least five to seven drafts. This is likely to be different than how many times they’ve edited other types of essays.
  • How many weeks would you like this process to last?
  • What are your weekly and monthly goals for the year? ( This is a list of the things that should be occurring during junior and senior years.
  • Are you able to set aside a specific time and place each week for this task?
  • How can I help you make this happen?

You should approach any discussion about the process with a clear, but not obtrusive, mindset.

Focused means asking questions to find out what your child is interested in learning and what they know. Asking questions will help you maintain a curious mind and learner’s mindset.

True detachment and genuine curiosity-we know that this last bit can be difficult!-can create a more relaxed conversation and help your child relax. If you are pushing for answers, leaning forward, or trying to sound too serious you will likely get a reaction from your child. Keep in mind that communication is key throughout this process.


Remember what we said about storytelling is the basis of great college essays? This is where you can have fun, and it can help you to write essays.

One way is to find the perfect bowl of food that inspires good conversation as you walk down Memory Lane together.

Why food? Food brings people together and can spark joy and calm. It can be a safe place for sharing. It’s possible to take a few deep breaths and smile if you feel the need.

The documentary A taste like memory is a collaboration between filmmakers Michael Salerno and Cindy Salerno. It focuses on the connection between family food rituals and their family’s history and values. You’ll hear their siblings saying, “That smells just like home” or “You never got that job!” The trailer shows the personality and opinions of the family through small lines and comments. Your child’s personal story is like a documentary. It’s essentially a film portrait of your child, a documentary about yourself, and scenes that help readers see the writer.

Colleges don’t want a list of accomplishments in their personal statement. They usually get this information from transcripts and the Activities List. They want to know who they are admitting, who will be attending classes, dorms, and teams, and who will be studying abroad. This is not our opinion, Reed College says so. BidForWriting counselor, says that character is a key part of this. It includes personality, personhood, and voice as well as the student’s truth. Your child can benefit from the personal stories you share together to help them think about key scenes that reflect their values and experience.

You need to be vulnerable in order to make your personality, individuality, and character shine through writing. You might find some great stories from your own life, such as moments, activities, and memories, to use in your personal statement, or for a supplemental essay. Reminiscing is a great way to discover.

You can make memories by sharing a favorite meal, going to a favorite restaurant, or ordering takeout from a favorite restaurant. You can spark stories with casual inquiries.

Do you remember when…

What was your favorite thing about it?

What do you remember about yourself?

Have you ever compared yourself to the present?

What do you get?

These questions are open for your input.

If your child is excited to discuss the writing process, you might not want to suggest that an anecdote should be included in an essay. It might be a good idea to wait to suggest this, especially if your child seems excited about the memory or if it is related to the overall topic or values being expressed. Let them explore for now.


Your child’s values will be the foundation of their essay.

The montage structure is a highly effective essay  writing helper structure that can be used by your child to show their values. It uses a thematic thread to connect seemingly unrelated moments or experiences in order to highlight core values. You can find out more about the montage structure or read a sample essay at this link.

Intuition is key to a strong personal declaration. The ability to reflect, to “go meta” about your life, is a sign that a student is intellectually curious and has depth. Through casual conversation, you can help your child develop deeper and more thoughtful thinking about their values.

What lessons have they taken from their past experiences? What has changed in their beliefs? What do they see differently now than they did before?

We recommend that they share these ideas by modeling them. How would you answer those questions, and why? They can clarify their thoughts about themselves through conversation.

Professional authors also know that there is a powerful way to test drive your ideas. This involves taking them out and having them run by others. When planning their next novel, author Cory McCarthy hosts a “plot party” alongside other young adult authors. Some writers prefer to “write life” (author Pat Schneider). This allows them to speak first before they commit too much to the page.

Active listening is a skill that you can cultivate as you listen to your child’s ideas. These active listening tips will help you determine if you are able to listen actively.

Your child may be more open to sharing their vulnerability if you are willing to share it. You can share some of the activities below.


  • These values were instilled in you by what?
  • What are your experiences with pursuing or expressing them?
  • Ask your child one after the other, then let them ask you.
  • What are you doing now to show that value?
  • What was something that you did that showed that value?
  • Why is this value important or interesting to you?

Ask your child if they are willing to participate in the All I Want Colleges To Know About Me Activity. Then, share it with you.

Ask What does this tell you about what you value in a school?

As your child surfs the top colleges’ websites, spend time with them. Ask your child to identify the school’s values. Point them to the About page and mission statements as well as any other pages that reflect the school’s values.



Writing well requires writing multiple drafts. Writing well requires a willingness to experiment and be open to new ideas. This is a way to encourage your child’s willingness to take risks and continue working.

You can encourage them to continue trying new things and develop insights if you are enthusiastic about their first efforts.

Is your child able to share specific details that demonstrate values and insight? Does your child show vulnerability and honesty? Is your child making interesting connections that aren’t common? Are you able to see your child’s true self on the page?

These are all indicators of skills in development. Encourage your child not to stop moving in the same direction. You can encourage a positive back and forth by keeping a casual tone and looking for the good in others. In the early drafts, what can you celebrate? In a stressful process that can be for students, it is important to celebrate every victory. Students often struggle to imagine what their audience will think.

This doesn’t mean they should lie to you. Instead, help them develop a process-oriented approach to writing that will last them through college and professional writing.

Don’t stress about the details, such as grammar and mechanics, early on. Instead, encourage them to think about the big picture and focus on structure, and content. Details and insights are two of the most important areas to work on. Global feedback, which we refer to as the topics above, is especially helpful in this area.

Don’t be discouraged if you find details lacking in clarity or are not interesting. Encourage them to focus on the things they are doing well and what they can do to improve those elements. It’s a great idea to give your student many examples of what has worked in the beginning stages of writing.



When your child is writing the final stages of a piece, a few weeks before deadlines, you can help them with their grammar and word count. You should not mention spelling errors, syntax, or other errors until then. It is not a good idea to ask your child for a word count. Encourage your child to write the above word count until all of their ideas are expressed.

In the beginning stages of writing, focusing on grammar and mechanics distracts from what is actually important: clarity, detail, value, insight, and structure.

Once you have these elements set up, you can help your child with their grammar and formatting by noting any mistakes and pointing. Grammarly has some great tips for sentence structure. The Art of Styling Session is a great resource for creating sentence variety.

You can offer syntax and grammar coaching on the sidelines. For example, explain why a semicolon or colon doesn’t belong there and invite your child to fix it. Your child should be able to correct their mistakes on their own when they go to college.



You might be comfortable with your teen seeking out role models and advice from outside the family. This is a great opportunity to let someone else handle this entire process.

It is possible to connect your child to great resources. You cannot underestimate the power of a short conversation with an adult, a connection with a talented peer, and the support of digital resources. These interactions can help your child grow their writing skills by giving them a chance to read and interact with others.

Is there anyone in your area who could be qualified to help you as a coach for writing? These are the pros and cons of working with an essay coach. BidForWriting has great step-by-step advice for a self-guided tour through the college essay writing process.

You probably know that your child is at an important developmental stage if you keep them apart from you. Your child’s writing will be enriched as they explore their identity, create boundaries, and establish healthy space. You didn’t let someone else do the job. This is a smart move in outsourcing.