Helping Your Child Navigate The Personal Statement and Standing Out in College Applications

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    Knowing how to help your child apply to college is a nuanced process. After all, you don’t want to overstep and it can be difficult to know exactly what your role should be in the college application process. While certain elements of preparing for your child to go to college will come to you more naturally than others, you’ll want to prepare yourself as best you can. This is why, in addition to reviewing our Ultimate College Planning Guide for Parents, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with ways you can help your child stand out in their college applications.

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    How to help your child stand out as a college applicant

    While you may be able to offer your child valuable insights from your own college application experiences, it’s important to realize that college admission is more competitive than ever. This is why you should do your best to manage your expectations and avoid placing too much pressure on your child. In other words, be supportive but realistic. 

    Having good grades is often not enough to get into a highly-selective school. This is why it’s important to have a college application strategy. Students intent on standing out should pursue thoughtful extracurriculars and engage in relevant leadership opportunities, such as pre-college summer programs and passion projects.

    What you need to know about pre-college programs

    College admissions officers often look favorably at applicants who attend pre-college summer programs. Typically, pre-college summer programs are 1-6 week programs hosted by colleges to help prepare high schoolers for college-level coursework. 

    There are a wide variety of pre-college summer programs — from STEM research opportunities and coding classes to creative writing workshops and music programs. If your student is interested in STEM activities, direct them to the MIT Summer Programs webpage. If they’re interested in creative writing, direct them to the Iowa Writing Workshop’s 2-Week Summer Residential Program

    While some pre-college summer programs are expensive, many offer generous scholarships. Many programs are even free to attend! By attending a pre-college summer program, students are able to increase their skill set, confidence, and sense of community. Help your child stand out on their college applications by helping them research pre-college summer programs and reviewing their program applications. 

    For more information on how pre-college summer programs are structured, review our article, Breaking Down Pre-College Summer Programs. You may also want to encourage your child to review our list of pre-college summer programs.

    Helping your child complete a passion project

    “[…] the key to helping your child with a passion project is to be supportive without overstepping”

    In addition to attending pre-college summer programs, motivated students should consider completing a passion project. A passion project is a self-directed project that allows high schoolers to challenge themselves, develop new skills, and gain confidence and a greater sense of community. 

    Because passion projects are designed and completed outside of school, they demonstrate passion, dedication, and the ability to take initiative. Encourage your child to review our Ultimate Guide to Passion Projects for High Schoolers to start brainstorming ideas for their own passion project.

    Encouraging your child to complete a passion project is a great way to help them stand out as a college applicant. But remember, a passion project should be planned and executed by your child. In other words, the key to helping your child with a passion project is to be supportive without overstepping. 

    That said, you can still help your child by assisting them to brainstorm ideas and conduct relevant research. For example, if your child decides they want to write and direct a musical for their community theater, you may want to help build the set, create costumes, or contact local businesses for ad space in the program. Similarly, if your child decides to organize a local fundraising event, you can help them practice their public speaking skills and/or proofread their professional correspondence and emails. 

    College admissions officers favor applicants who demonstrate passion, dedication, and the ability to take initiative through their extracurricular involvement. Therefore, encouraging your child to pursue a passion project can be a great college application strategy!

    How to help your child with their college essays

    While you certainly do not want to write your child’s college essay for them, feel free to help them brainstorm essay topics, compare prompts, provide feedback, and proofread their essays. If writing isn’t one of your strengths, feel free to reach out to other people you know who could help your child.

    The personal statement is one of the most important college application factors. This is why it’s important to encourage your child to start their essay early and write multiple drafts. The key to knowing how to write a unique college essay is to familiarize yourself with Components of a Strong Personal Statement.

    Here are five tips to help you get started:

    1. Help your child choose a meaningful topic.
    2. Make sure your child writes an engaging introductory paragraph.
    3. Ideally, your child’s college essay should sound like them. Encourage them to write the way that they speak, without being too informal of course.
    4. The best college essays are personal and genuine. Help direct your child so that their essay is reflective of who they are as a person and what’s important to them.
    5. The best college essays reveal an important insight or lasting takeaway. So while it’s important to write a focused essay about a specific experience, this experience should also have larger implications.

    Finally, it’s important to be aware of Overused College Essay Topics and to encourage your child to review Winning College Essay Examples from Top Schools so they can reflect on what makes an effective college essay.

    How does ChatGPT play into all this?

    Firstly, what is ChatGPT? ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence language software capable of generating conversational responses to various prompts. The implications of this technology are huge. You’re likely wondering Will ChatGPT Affect College Admissions and How? 

    AI writing software is still new, but it’s likely that college admissions officers will start screening personal statements for the use of AI-generated writing. AI-detecting software is currently being developed and will likely increase in importance in the coming years. Therefore, encourage your child to complete their personal statement and college supplemental essays without the use of AI. After all, a successful college essay should be genuine and unique! For more information on how the use of AI is influencing formal education, check out the New York Times article, What Students Are Saying About ChatGPT. 

    Other ways to help your child apply to college

    Still, wondering how to help your child prepare for college? There are lots of ways you can offer your support. Let’s take a quick look at other ways you can help your child with their college applications:

    1. Help your child come up with a well-balanced college list. Conduct some of your own research and share your findings with your child. Ideally, your child should apply to 2-3 safety schools, 3-4 fit schools, and 2-3 reach schools. During your research, you may want to consider some of these 15 College Safety Schools for your child’s college list.
    2. Meet with your child’s high school guidance counselor. Ask them for a list of things you should be doing to help your child. Discuss extracurricular opportunities, standardized tests, and course registration. Discuss the importance of course rigor and how your child’s transcripts will affect their chances of admission.
    3. Go on college tours with your child. Ask your college tour guide lots of questions and encourage your child to do the same. Meet with an admissions counselor to gain additional insights.
    4. Talk to your child about college financial planning. Research scholarship opportunities for them and learn everything you need to know about FAFSA. Explain to them The Differences Between Need-Based and Merit-Based Financial Aid.
    5. Help your child keep track of important deadlines, such as standardized test dates, college application deadlines, financial aid deadlines, scholarship deadlines, etc. Give them periodic reminders and make sure they’re on track to fulfill all of their obligations.

    Key takeaways about how parents can help with college applications

    As a parent, it’s important to know how to help your child apply to college and make a college decision. You’ll also want to learn How to Help Your Child With a College Rejection Letter, as well as manage their overall expectations. These can be overwhelming tasks and it’s okay if you need extra help. That said, if you feel like your child could benefit from professional guidance, consider reaching out to learn more about our services.

    Contact a Prepory college admissions coach and start your college admissions journey.

    Our college admissions experts are here to guide you from where you are to where you should be. Through our comprehensive curriculum, individualized coaching, and online workshops, you are set for success as soon as you connect with us.

    During our initial consultation, we will: 

    • Assess your student’s applicant profile and higher education goals 
    • Provide detailed information about our services and programming
    • Share tips on how to navigate the U.S. college admissions process 

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