The Real Way Teens Should Respond on Their College Essays

I am currently helping my daughter work on her college applications. Maybe it’s because she is my third child to go through this process (and there’s still one more kid to go). Maybe it’s because, as a high school teacher, I helped countless other teenagers with their college essays. Or maybe it’s just because I am getting older, and I no longer have patience with the ridiculous.

But the fact is, the college application process is ridiculous—in particular the essays. Our children are being asked to answer questions that assume a level of maturity and experience that most of them haven’t yet achieved—because they are still kids!

Of course, I can’t say this to my daughter. She has already reached a stress level of DEFCON 10. And it’s only September!

She has spent hours and hours holed up in her room writing—no, not writing. Crafting! Crafting essay after essay, searching for just the right words to prove she is intelligent and articulate.

The real way kids should respond to college essays.
Roman Samborskyi/ Shutterstock

She needs a good anecdote that shows she can overcome, persevere, or better yet, triumph over adversity.

She must earnestly share her goals and desires, but not just any goals and desires, unique and meaningful ones, ones that show she is thoughtful, progressive, ambitious, and motivated.

Of course she can’t forget to humbly, yet boldly, tout her many achievements. She must sound accomplished and well-rounded.

In short, she must stand out among the thousands of other applicants. And that’s just to get in to some schools. She will have to stand out among the standouts if she hopes to get any scholarships.

So I, her ever-devoted mother will proofread my gazillionth college essay. After all, it’s all true. She is intelligent and motivated. She has lofty goals and a stellar resume. She has spent the last four years preparing for this, so it’s no wonder she wants her essays to be perfect.

Still, I can’t help but wish that she, that every high school senior, could answer the questions the way they should be answered. The way they deserve to be answered.

Tell us how you think our university will help you prepare for your future.

Well, I am seventeen, so I haven’t really decided my future. Obviously college is the first step.

At that point, I was kind of hoping you guys would help me figure it out. I mean, I like art. But I could only take one art class in high school because I had to take a lot of AP courses to try to pad my GPA and make my resume impressive. So I really haven’t had a chance to figure out if art is my thing.

I did do a lot of volunteer work in high school. Some of it was pretty cool—like prom committee.

But mostly I just tried to volunteer as much as possible (again, the resume). So, with all the time I spent in high school preparing for college, I really haven’t had a chance to figure out what interests me.

And again, I am just seventeen.

How do you plan to impact our campus community?

That’s a tough one. After all, I have never been a part of a college campus before. I don’t know yet what clubs I’ll want to join or what causes I’ll be drawn to. I thought I’d spend the first few months just finding my way around and making friends. I didn’t realize I’d be expected to be impactful from the get-go. Frankly, that’s a bit intimidating. I was actually hoping to have a chance to try some new things, to find out what I really care about, before I start impacting my community. Can you ask me this again after my freshmen year?

Describe an experience that changed the way you see the world.

Are you kidding me? Did I mention that I am seventeen? I’ve only been driving a car for a year. I still have a curfew, and I still have to raise my hand and get permission to use the restroom. I’ve haven’t really seen much of the world—let alone had any world-changing experiences.

But okay, I’ll try…okay I got it! In middle school I thought One Direction was super cool. But after Harry Stiles left, I realized that he was the only one with talent. The rest of the guys were just backup.

I know. I know. That sounds vapid and shallow. Clearly I need deeper experiences. Oh wait! That’s why I’m going to college. I’m sort of hoping that college will change, or at least clarify, how I see the world. I didn’t realize that being already changed was a prerequisite for getting in. Maybe I should be asking you how my worldview will be changed by my college experience—not the other way around

Well, that was a fun. If actual college applicants can’t answer their essay questions quite this honestly, at least I can. Who knows, maybe some college entrance mucky muck somewhere will read this and rethink the expectations we have for our high schoolers. In the meantime, I guess I’d better get back to proofreading.

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About Laura Hanby Hudgens

Laura Hanby Hudgens is a part-time high school teacher and a freelance writer living with her husband and children in the Arkansas Ozarks. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Grown and Flown, Parent.co and elsewhere. You can learn more about her at Charming Farming, where she occasionally blogs about faith, food, education, and family life.

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