High School Made Simple: College Essays for Credit

When the Common Application recently released the essay prompts for 2016-2017, I reminisced about the time my high schoolers and I spent writing and editing college essays.

Those days mattered.

Oh yes, there were frustrations and word blocks. Challenges of putting heart and mind to paper. Thoughts processed and penned; gratitude for life-changing events and people. Indeed, the words were required for college essays, however poignancy and purpose marked milestones, not solely meeting rubric requirements or a grade percentage.

The prompts were real and relevant, personal to the young adult. 

Typically, we spend the Junior year practicing essay writing. 

I found this type of writing practical, useful, purposeful. This writing was significant for pondering but also necessary for college application. Call it high school intrinsic motivation. They worked hard at it. In fact, the time our Juniors spent practicing and polishing essays became a part of their life reflections as well as their English credits.

In addition to the Common Application essay prompts, we also used the supplemental essay prompts from the universities of student's choice. In other words, if the college was on the Top Ten list for our student, we found out what supplemental essay questions might be and began writing. To our delight, the essays were similar in nature. 

When looking for supplemental essay prompts on college sites, the first place we looked was on the application. If we couldn't find the prompts on the application, we would type in "essays for admission" (or something similar) on the site search box. 

Over the twelve years of homeschooling high school, I discovered the most popular supplemental essay prompts to be:

  • Why do you want to attend this school? This question not only offers opportunity for writing practice, but research also. A student can't write a knowledgeable essay of this kind without some degree of research about the university. Focusing on specific, perhaps a renown, faculty member influential in the student's field of study may be helpful. As a high schooler senior applying to college (this speaks to how long this question has been asked) I remember writing about my desire to attend an integrative university where education was not only studied in a traditional classroom setting but also experientially. My university excelled in this area and I wanted admissions to know not only was I aware of their unique instruction, I sought it out!
  • How will you be an asset to our university campus and the greater community? My son chose to answer this question for one of his applications.  In his research, he found the campus had a community outreach similar to one he had been involved in throughout high school. Mentioning this seemed natural.
  • What are your short and long term academic goals? Though this essay may be found on a freshman application it is also popular for specific schools within the university as well as graduate schools. 
  • Describe a person you admire. As my high schoolers worked on this essay, I reminded them it is always better to write about what and who is known and familiar. Therefore, I encouraged them to write about a person who impacted them personally, perhaps intellectually, morally or spiritually. This was another essay chosen by one of our high school young adults, one he was able to excerpt from several times in college and beyond.
  • Tell us about yourself. When working on this essay, we were encouraged to find the unique, something that would set the student apart. Colleges put unique twists on this essay, sometimes asking about a life-changing event or future dreams and aspirations. Some universities referred to this portion of the application as the personal statement. 
  • Why should (university) offer you admission? This question closely resembles "What will you bring to our campus?"  Related, we found one prompt a springboard to another.  

Some universities also require essays for scholarships. Again, this is a great resource for writing prompts in the Junior year. With scholarship essays meaning potential monies toward college expenses, we found this writing valuable time spent.

Colleges often place a word count on essays submitted. This requirement added a practical, real-life element to our writing assignments. Anyone can make a point, answer a question, but within required limits? Practice in this area prepared our high schoolers for college writing where word count mattered. In fact, some professors refuse to read beyond the requested limit. Writing essays within a word count while in high school proved beneficial.

Be aware, some colleges make additional requirements as to font style and size as well as margins and spacing. If the school makes this type of requirement, be sure to follow the request. Again, following these guidelines in high school prepared our students for college assignments in all content areas. 

College essays in our home mattered. Yes, the essays opened doors for admission and scholarship, but their greater good provided an avenue for reflection, personal growth and gratitude. The essays were not just a requirement, but a profitable use of time. 

Those days mattered.

Essays are just one part of the high school paper trail universities often require. For more information on the paperwork schools may request for college admission, join me in my workshop at FPEA Convention, Happy (High School) Paper Trails. 

UPDATE: This session is available on MP3 for purchase at The FPEA Store.

This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children.