What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

The College Application Essays Your Child Will Write


As a parent, you want to do everything you can to help your student with the college application process. That being said, college has changed a lot over the last couple of decades; you may find yourself as overwhelmed as your student trying to navigate all of the different requirements and deadlines. College application essays are no exception. Here’s what you need to know to help your student create the strongest possible application.


Why are College Essays Important?


Most colleges require similar types of information from a student, such as:


  • An application form, which includes the student’s demographic and contact information. 
  • A list of their extracurriculars, either as part of the application form or as a separate written component.
  • Academic records, such as transcripts and test scores.
  • At least one essay, often called a personal statement.


Some colleges have additional information they need from students, especially if they are homeschooled or international applicants. Others require all students to submit counselor evaluations and recommendations, and many allow for optional materials such as interviews.


It’s important to keep track of exactly what a college asks for, what they recommend, and how much additional material your student is allowed to send. If you don’t follow their requirements, such as sending additional letters of recommendation when the school specifies a limit of two, college admissions counselors will look at your student’s application less favorably.


Aside from supplying schools with the information they ask for, college essays hold extra importance in the application. It is usually the only chance that students have to show admissions counselors who they are in their own words, and the essay provides admissions counselors with insight into that student’s character beyond grades, test scores and activities.


To get a sense of how important the essay is, consider what it might be like to read applications without it. At any one school, there would be hundreds of students who excelled in their classes, earned competitive test scores, and did a school sport or practiced a musical instrument. In short, most of the applications would look the same–there would be too many qualified students for the limited spaces a college or university has.


Essays help distinguish applicants from one another. They take a student from “is qualified for admission” to “is accepted.” As a result, college essays should illustrate a student’s character and aid admissions committees in imagining their presence on campus.


Crafting strong college essays is not easy and often requires extensive editing and revision. For certain applications, your student will likely have to write more than one essay. Preparing for a variety of essays can help you to avoid any redundancy or inaccuracy, making it easier to hit your mark in the early drafts. Let’s look at the different possible essays your student will write.


Types of Essays


Personal Statement

It’s almost guaranteed that your student will write a personal statement. Some colleges provide prompts for this essay, but oftentimes the prompt is intentionally vague. For example, prompts might ask a student to describe a person, event, or place in their life that had a significant impact on them. They might also ask a student what they hope to accomplish in their life as a result of receiving a college degree.


In general, the personal statement is one page long, although some colleges allow more space. Unlike essays they’ve had to write for school, students should focus on narrative techniques that “connect the dots” between who they are, key aspects of their life, and what they want to do. Personal statements can be creative, which means that there is a lot of leeway in what makes a good or bad statement.


Most importantly, personal statements should give insight into who your child is. It should be genuine. Attempting to be what you think the admissions counselor wants will likely have your student blending in with other applicants, many of whom will be operating with the same premise.


A good test is to imagine you know nothing about your child before reading their essay. What impression do you get? Now, compare that impression to everything you know about your child. Is the piece an accurate representation of who they are? How could it be improved to highlight your child’s best qualities?


If your student uses something like the Common App or Coalition App, much of the basic information is copied over for each school your student applies to, including their personal statement. Even outside of these shared application systems, most students write one really good personal statement and tweak it for each school rather than writing a new essay every time. To elicit more specific responses, many schools require additional essays.


Our College Essay Team have broken down the prompts for the Common App and Coalition App so you and your student can craft the best possible essay. Check out our posts below:


How to Write the Common Application Essays 2019-2020 (With Examples)


How to Write the Coalition Application Essays 2019-2020


Supplemental Essays

Many schools know that students “recycle” personal statements, and they aren’t going to be upset or penalize students for doing so. However, this results in many personal statements sounding a little generalized. In order to evaluate a student’s institution-specific ambitions, many schools require essays that put students in conversation with their future majors, colleges, or  clubs.


Many supplemental essays follow a couple of key patterns.


Why this school? Some schools, especially schools that use a shared application like the Common App, will include an essay that asks students–more or less directly–why they want to attend their school. Schools want to admit students who are excited about attending, and one thing your student can do is include some of their school research into this essay. Are they excited about specific study abroad or research opportunities? Do they admire any faculty members? Seeming well-informed is a productive way to communicate your enthusiasm.  


Why this major/college? Universities often group majors into colleges for the sake of offering specialized resources to those students. These schools will often ask students what they plan to major in. This type of essay allows schools to find out why a student is interested in a particular field of study, and is a great way for your student to allow their passion to shine.


Quirky prompts. Some schools want to see a student get creative or showcase themselves in a fun light. This pattern covers a broad range of prompts, such as asking students to explain a superpower they would like to have or to elucidate their biggest pet peeve. Tamer prompts might ask students to write a letter to their future roommate. Still other prompts might have a serious tone to them, these prompts really want students’ personalities to shine.


Wrapping it Up


Even if your student ends up writing only one essay during their entire college application process, college essays play a huge role in helping students stand out from the crowd and show admissions counselors that they’ve got what it takes. Most importantly, college essays get into the nitty-gritty of individual creativity, cognition, and commitment; it casts the rest of the application in a personalized light.


Does your teen want access to expert college guidance — for free? When they create their free CollegeVine account, they will find out their real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve their profile, and get their questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Encourage them to sign up for their CollegeVine account today to get a boost on their college journey.


For more information about the college applications process, check out these posts below:

Six Mistakes Parents Make When Helping Their Child Make a College Decision

Parents: 8 Steps for Keeping College Applications Sane

Parents: Help Your Teen Be More Independent

Short Bio
Gianna Cifredo is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she majored in Philosophy. She has six years of higher education and test prep experience, and now works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and is a proud cat mom.