Lurking Mom seeks advice and empathy

<p>First off, I've been a "lurker, " on this board for the past several months. Having spent too much $$ thus far on this whole admission process, it's ironic that the most valuable resource (CC) hasn't cost me a penny! This is a tremendous board. Thanks to all. </p>

<pre><code> My s is a senior and totally engulfed in the process. For the most part, he has been engaged and involved. Of course there have been the arguements re: enough prep time for tests etc. My dilema: I have tried to stay out of the essay writing, giving commentary (for the most part)when asked. Last night, I was online looking at his progress with the common app. and am very concerned. Several of his short answer essays are simplistic and run of the mill: "soccer, most fulfilling, perserverence, overcoming obstacles. I was attracted to this college because of stellar reputation..."
I can tell he is feeling the pressure of everything. He's normally very easy going, but recently snapped telling me to back off. Intellectually, I know that I should just walk away and keep my mouth shut. Emotionally, I'm having a very hard time with this. He has strong grades, scores, rec, and ec. I'm guessing that this wouldn't harm chances at safety maybe match schools. However, he is also shooting for some near Ivies, and I'm sure this won't cut it. What do I do?

<p>Is there any way to just have a conversation with him about why he is attracted to college x or why he likes soccer, a conversation which might give him some more ideas to work into his essays? I guess it's a ploy which can be easily seen through but at least it won't mention the dreaded word "essay."</p>

<p>I would talk to him, and explain that you have more experience in the admissions process (you've been around longer) and that he should consider "improving" some of his responses. Tell him that you want to him to succeed and get into the best schools, etc. He'll probably be mad that your trying to "interfere" but if you don't succeed, try again when the two of your are calm. </p>

<p>If you can, find an article on the internet or in a book that talks about essays and short answer responses and what the colleges want and don't want to hear. If he doesn't listen to you, he should listen to someone who has written a book on the admissions process.</p>

<p>Is it possible to have someone else look at a draft of the application? Someone at school, another parent, an older friend who got into a competitive college? The other ideas are good too....</p>

<p>It has helped me to meet everyone's needs to set up scheduled "discussion times." My sons have not wanted to hear about these topics randomly, but when we set a specific time, a few times per week, to touch bases, discuss where they were, review what they had written- they have been much more open to suggestion. After each meeting we have generated a "to do" list for each of us (mine often consists of buying materials!). </p>

<p>As for the specifics of the "trite answer" phenomena...maybe these are just first passes? If he says otherwise..I would phrase the approach something like "well, you've made a first stab...what do you think..." Ask him what he likes and doesn't like about the answers, as an inroad. Offer comments from your discussions with him about what you both liked about school X...remind him that each answer, short or long, is a chance to say what is unique about him...</p>

<p>Personally, I would back off and let it go. It is his application and his results. I know that you want him to stand out more than he does, but if he wanted your help he would ask you for it. Ultimately, he will be accepted to a good school where he most likely will be quite happy. It is very difficult for us parents to divorce ourselves from this process, but the kids are the ones who have to do this and live with the outcomes. I think that sometimes this process is much harder for us than it is for them and our anxiety rubs off on them making it more difficult for everyone. His answers are what they are and he will either be admitted or he won't.</p>

<p>You can do what I did: Print out some threads from CC and ask your child to take a look. Don't comment on the specifics of HIS application, just say you thought it might be of interest to him. If he reads through some of the posts, he'll get some ideas of how the way he has gone about filling his application stacks up. You could start by printing out the thread Universal Admission Essay Advice. If he still feels that he's done well and is not interested in incorporating the tips, let it go. As Shennie said, it's his application.</p>

<p>My thoughts are that unless your son is applying to a place like HPYS, the essays don't make that much difference anyway. My suggestion would be to give him a couple of articles on how to write college application essays, and then back off. I have seen essays that students wrote that got them admitted to non Ivy type colleges, and most are very ordinary.</p>

<p>this may be a parent/child issue. I agree with suggesting to him that some other knowledgeable adult look over his apps.</p>

<p>Oh, mwlgal - I feel your pain! I blew this one big time at my house, so DON'T do what I did!!! I wish I had had the wisdom to do what Marite or wish<em>it</em>was suggests, particularly if you have been hands off up until now. If you know there is someone who will give him feedback on the content and who understands enough about the process to judge, suggest they read the essay or print off some of the many threads here and just say you might be interested - then back off, as hard as that is.</p>

<p>Well, I am very lucky that my S is not going through a rebellious phase (maybe saving it for college? it's been known to happen), that he values my advice, but most importantly, that while he takes the admission process seriously, he is not consumed with anxiety over it. He is also used to our pointing out information from the net or in newspapers and magazines that might be of interest to him.
I suspect that part of the OP's child's reasons for wanting the OP to stay away is anxiety and lack of self-confidence. It is a very common phenomenon: artists fearing to show their work, students not wanting anyone to read their papers, etc... People telling them they are willing to give advice does not help reduce the anxiety.
I am mindful of the discussion on another thread of the student whose mother not only drowns him in advice and goodies from home but also seems to want his whole dorm to provide support. It is such a public declaration that the parents have no confidence in their child to get the job done on his own.
That's why I advocate giving the child as much information in a somewhat indirect way by printing out useful information and letting him decide whether to read it or not. The student will be able to feel that he is still in control of the process.</p>

<p>It sounds like the problem is two-fold. First, your son does not have the information he needs to raise the bar on his essay writing. Second, he is feeling overwhelmed at this point (totally normal, if our house is any indication, by the way). I've noticed that my S gets really irritated with a process (and with me!) when he has high hopes and expectations combined with a vague understanding of how to do a task. So your son's lack of information on what makes an essay really pop could be feeding his frustration (in addition to just the stress of trying to do well senior year and applying to all those colleges). </p>

<p>What I would do:</p>

<p>Tell him you looked at the essays and think they are a good first start but that to really stand out at the top schools on his list, he will need to go a step beyond. Tell him you found some great information on how to make short essays work, and then make an appointment with him for some time this weekend or even next week to present it to him (missing a day of school to work on essays can sometimes really do the trick; my S did that: slept in one morning, made himself a big breakfast and some coffee and really cranked out some short but wonderful essays that day when he had the house to himself). If he doesn't want to meet with you about this at a later date, then that's a sign to just drop it. Perhaps he's not really that interested in the top schools, and that's okay. </p>

<p>If he wants to meet, then get Harry Bauld's paperback on admissions essay writing (I don't have the title with me but you can look his name up on Amazon). Read it to find a couple of examples of bad and good essays that you can show your son. Seeing the bad essays and the critques from admissions officers can really open a kid's eyes, as can seeing the good essays. Plus, your S will start to be able to put himself in the shoes of the admissions officers, who are looking for sparks of life in the essays at the very least. The book is sort of inspiring. I used to carry that book in the car. S and I would talk about it when I was ferrying him around last year before he got his license. I'd read it while waiting for him to get out of his internship and then say, "Hey, read this essay... it's horrible!" or "Read this essay; it's great!" In short bits, he was open to reading and talking about it. It's a good book, funny to read. My son didn't find the writing process that Bauld talks about to be very helpful, but the examples sure were. Also, in "Rock Hard Apps" (I forget the author right now) there is an excellent example of a kid who wrote a boring little essay to Johns Hopkins, got waitlisted (not just because of the essay) and then rewrote his essays and got in. The author shows the boring one and the revised one. That alone is an eye-opener.</p>

<p>Good luck!</p>

<p>Momof2 in CA</p>

<p>Lots of advice here, and it is excellent. But talking to a teenager especially during college app time is like sticking your hand in a bear trap, and that's if he is bothering to listen. I would suggest you clear an evening to go over the essays. You might want to very nicely suggest expanding some of his answers, and perhaps have some marked up copies for him as suggestions,making it clear that they are suggestions only, and that maybe he can even build on them. </p>

<p>My son sent off all of his applications on line without showing me the essays he chose or editing them at all. My chest pains started when I saw the many, many glaring errors he made in the apps and the essays. Not much I could do though. Just fix the mistakes that had to be fixed, and just hope too much damage was not done. And he well knew that he was supposed to print out the apps and that we were going to go over them before they were submitted. He knew full well. But he did not want to go through the process with me, and there was not much I could do about it. I can only hope that he does not suffer the consequences that he deserves. Such is the lot of the mom.</p>

<p>But also as the mom and the adult and the more knowledgeable one, the right thing to do is to set up some sort of infrastructure so that your son has someone to look at his essay and give him some suggestions. Though reading these boards would lead one to believe that kids are dying for help on their essays and are obsessed with them, that is not the world I see. Most kids do a blase job on the essays. There are truly very few outstanding essays. I just try to keep out the inflammatory subjects that could negatively impact the decision and proofread for grammatical. problems. Maybe a few pointers here and there. You really can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear so you are not going to do more than tweak the essay. And even the essays that are written by adults or professionals are not particularly impressive. The reflection coming out of the essay is supposed to be first and foremost this senior in high school, and most kids are still so unformed at this point, that you are not going to get any startling revelations. To forces such essays is risky. The adcoms danged well know how these kids write and how their essay should be. Unless you reconstruct the kid and his experiences, it is virtually impossible to get an outstanding essay out of most of these kids. I resent the emphasis the schools are putting on the essays simply because I do not believe they count that much at all most of the time. If you divide the hours the app is in admissions and the case load of adcoms, you'll see that most essays get a real quick lookover. And if you are not a super phenomonally unusually experienced kid, what the heck arre you supposed to write reflect. "Everybody's Special" time is over after grammar school. Most of us are not special and trying to dredge up something to palm of as such is pretty pathetic. We try to get a peek at the person behind the paper through the essays and most of the time they are pretty normal college bound kids.</p>

<p>Katherine Cohen's book does show how essays can be revised when you have a kid who is highly motivated to write an "ideal Essay" which is one that shows an interesting kid who is demonstrating specific interest in the school at hand. So when you talk to kids BEFORE they write this essay, you talk about ways this can be done. Once they have written the essay, getting a rewrite is tough--they are done with this depised task. And I will tell you that I have seen many boring little essays to Johns Hopkin still get the kid in, and kids with great essays and similar profiles not get in. Too many variable to be able to isolate what gets a kid in and what doesn't. I would say the demonstrated interest in a school does weigh in pretty heavily, even when you are applying ED. Selective schools are not particularly interested in kids who are ho hum about their college. But unfortunately with kids sometimes they are ho hum about their colleges. When they are so tired of the process and not want to deal with it, There is little a parent can do except cajole and push for the bare minimum.</p>

<p>Jamimom, I don't know if mwlgal feels better, but your post made me feel better! The essay could have been so good, and it was so bad! Never mind the high verbal score, never mind the 5 in AP English - the essay come across like it was written in 10 minutes (which I think it was!). Unfirtunately, the bear trap analogy is right on target!</p>

<p>Effective visual there, jamimom. LOL.</p>

<p>I'm surprised that my son and I survived the essay writing process as well as we did. But, it's because he pretty much won. I feel your pain!! But, at some point I decided to back off and let the chips fall where they may, while vowing to pay for him to attend in a writing course this summer. Hey, my son even wrote his essay in the double spaced, indented paragraph format and told me I was crazy for suggesting single space until I made him call his girlfriend to ask how she did hers. How does the 17 year old GF know more than mom? </p>

<p>I bought him the Peterson's Best Colleg Essay book. It helped tremendously. Originally, he wrote an essay about a big election. The Peterson's book explicitly said not to write essays on that topic. He had to trash that essay. I didin't ask him to read the while book...just the "Dos and Don'ts" in the front. </p>

<p>Try to get someone besides you to critique his essay. My son connected with a CC parent who gave have him some suggestion, which he gladly accepted. Other than that, let it go. </p>

<p>I've accepted that he'll gain acceptance to the colege that he deserves to attend....and where he'll do well enough to get into a good grad school. </p>

<p>Good luck and keep posting!</p>

<p>I would separate the issues of the real essays from that of the short answer paragraphs. If it's the former, than heed all the good suggestions above. If it's the paragraphs, I'd let it go. It's just too difficult to be creative in the paragraph or short essay format for most students. My S had a fine main essay, but his short paragraph answers were basically "marching band is fun!" and "I love everything about Columbia, especially the Core and NYC" (the two most-mentioned and obvious reasons for "why Columbia?" ) I was hoping and pulling for and suggesting something different and creataive; he felt,"my answers are true, that's enough." I let it go; he got in. So I agree with NSM, they couldn't've counted for that much.</p>

<p>I must say that I agree with those that advocate a hands off approach. I know it is hard to do and we all want our children to be shown in the best light, but "volunteering" suggestions when they are not solicitated or wanted will probably not help the situation.
My daughter looked at the admissions process as her job and wanted to do everything herself. Being the "ever helpful" mom I was quick to remind her of deadlines and was so pleased to give unasked for advice. After all, I had been a teacher and naturally wanted to have her benefit from my years of experience.
Things were a little tense until she sat me down one evening and very gently explained to me that she was sure that all of my advice was wonderful,HOWEVER, she wanted to be completely in charge of her applications, essays, teacher recs, everything.
She applied to 6 schools, was accepted to 5 and is having the time of her life at her perfect match, Smith College. And I have yet to read one of her essays.
Luckily she calls almost every day to keep me in the loop.</p>

<p>So, if they don't count...why are they required?</p>

<p>It's not that they don't count; it's just one of the most minor parts of the app. I think a really great answer can help you, but a run of the mill paragraph isn't going to hurt you.</p>