Owning the College Essay

We want students to own the process of preparing for college.

-Barbara Buckley, English Teacher

At the end of every school year, juniors are given a chance to reflect upon their life and define — in 650 words or less — who they are. They are given a chance to discuss an accomplishment or an event that sparked a period of personal growth or reflect upon a time when they questioned a belief or idea. They are asked to recount challenges, failures or setbacks or even share an essay on a topic of their choosing. They are given a chance to write their college essay.

College essays are profoundly personal. The writing process requires authenticity and self-reflection. Although a daunting tasks, it allows students to reveal something unique about themselves and their perspective in this world. This year the common application prompts include:

Describe a topic, idea or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time.

Discuss a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve.

Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

“We always try to tell students to show, not tell. A few years ago, I had a student begin his essay in a pretty standard way. After a little prodding and encouragement, the student’s essay turned into a beautifully crafted piece about self-identity and the struggle he felt between the different worlds in which he lived,” comments English teacher Barbara Buckley.

Started by a student, our annual College Day in the fall provides seniors with an opportunity to refine their essay and receive feedback from teachers and faculty. They are able to set up meetings with a number of faculty members. First impressions are revealed: What am I seeing? What do I think you’re trying to tell me? What are you actually saying vs what are you trying to say? Seniors are then given strategies on how to improve their essay and refine their message.

Teachers are constantly encouraging juniors: Choose a topic, but don’t just talk about it, explain what it means to you and why. The essay is a great opportunity for students to not only prepare for college, but also to learn even more about who they are, how they have become curious, courageous and/or compassionate, and discover a bit more about their place in this world.

Leave a Reply