DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.
Get an idea of the essays your child will need to write by reading the Common App prompts and supplement essays that some colleges may require. Supplements can be found on each college's page at Commonapp.org. Paste the prompts into document.
Reflect on your child’s high school years and jot down instances when he or she overcame obstacles, assumed responsibility, and handled difficult situations with good judgment. Next, make a list of your child’s interests and achievements in and out of school. Make note of the items that you feel best illustrates your child's strengths and personality.
CREATE YOUR OWN BANK OF POSSIBILITIES.
SYNC UP THE POSSIBILITIES WITH PROMPTS.
See if you can correlate any of items you listed with the essay questions. For example, a story about teaching swimming at a public pool might work perfectly for this essay question: “How do you participate in the life of your community?” (Read about the Power of Stories). For more suggestions on where to look for stories, go to Find Your Ideas.
READ GREAT ADMISSIONS ESSAYS.
Many colleges post their admissions’ staffs’ favorite essays online. Check Connecticut College and Johns Hopkins to get started. You also might want to read these summaries of essays by recent clients.
KEEP IT LIGHT.
When you speak with your student about the essays do it casually, in response to something else. For example, if your child is complaining about how hard it is to nail that Mozart violin solo, you might reply, “your commitment to the violin is really impressive. This Mozart solo might actually make a good college essay.” If they don’t want to talk about the idea, just drop it. It’s enough to have planted that seed.
"THAT TOTALLY SUCKS!"
If your child says this about your ideas, please let it go. Your dreadful suggestions might spur your child to think up some ideas on their own.
"WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS IDEA?"
If your child asks your opinion, respond by asking questions that encourage more conversation. For example: “What impression do you think that story would give an admissions officer?” and “How would that story convince a dean that they should admit you?”
When your child starts planning their summer, encourage them (with all available leverage) to set aside a specific block of time to work on the essays. Students do their best writing over the summer without the demands of school robbing their energy and focus. Do the same with upcoming vacations and long weekends.
The essays are the most personal and least structured part of the application. No wonder they cause so much worry. Because you know your students better than anyone, you can help alleviate some of the stress by helping your child in the early stages of formulating ideas.
Here's what Essaymom suggests: