Except for the stress of picking which schools to apply to, the hardest part of the college application process for students is the essay.
Many students are used to writing a five paragraph, expository essay, which they have been taught to write repeatedly in school. But when faced with a reflective essay, which colleges prefer, students often freeze.
“What should I write about?” they ask. “How do I get started?” “I haven’t done anything important enough to write about.” And the statement I hear most often, “I have nothing to say.”
When judging students’ performance at writing their college essays, we often fail to consider their emotional development. They are merely teenagers, and their emotional core—in which they can reflect clearly on who they are and how they got to be that way—is still developing. They are not finished products in any way.
So the fact that we expect them to write phenomenal essays may not be quite fair. This doesn’t mean they should do any less than their best or not try their hardest to summon forth an original story or reflection of who they are. Of course they should.
But perhaps we need to adjust our expectations. These students need to find their own voice; they can write about the world only as they understand it. And we should be supportive of their efforts, knowing that there is more growth to come.