This is a guest blog post written by our friends at Wow Writing Workshop  the leading expert on the college application essay. Wow offers free resources for parents and students,  essay coaching and review services for students, training for professionals, and strategic business communications consulting. They speak at local, regional and industry conferences, and are authors of a popular new ebook, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay – The Inside Scoop for ParentsWe encourage you to learn more about Wow, and check out the original post

Whether you will be sending your first or last child to college next fall, or the following year, it’s a great time to start thinking about the application essay, which is often the most stressful part of the entire journey to college.

Why start now? It’s never too early to prepare your child for college; you are in a good position to get the process moving in the right direction.

Why start with the essay?  At its core, the college essay (personal statement, supplemental essay, personal insight question) is all about reflection. An effective essay showcases a personality trait that is meaningful to the student through a story that is reflective and rounds out the application package.

Given the increasingly competitive landscape of college admissions,  getting into the most selective colleges is not guaranteed to any student, no matter how high grades and test scores might be, or how impressive the outside activities are. A student could stand out in the crowded field  with a college essay that shows real insight into any type of life experience. The essay might be your child’s best shot at getting into their dream schools beyond the grades, test scores and extracurricular activities.

Parents Know Best

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. Now is the time to use your inside knowledge to give your son or daughter an advantage in this process in a way that doesn’t seem so daunting. You are more ready than you may know. In fact, you’ve been preparing for this journey since your son or daughter was born. We’ll show you how to engage your child in an ongoing conversation that encourages reflection, and brings you into the  college essay process without overstepping your role.

5 Tips to Help Your Child Reflect

Ready to start?

Think of yourself as a cheerleader, but not the coach. Be encouraging, but not critical.

Ask your child one question: “What do you want colleges to know about you beyond test scores, grades and extracurricular activities?”

Most students have trouble answering this question. Prod, but do it gently. Ask open-ended questions to avoid ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ answers. The answer to this question is the key to reflection.

  1. What are your child’s best traits? Is he funny? Is she serious? Compassionate? A voracious reader? Resourceful? Studious? Point out the traits you recognize, and then ask how your child views himself. Keep the conversation moving.
  2. Think characteristics, not accomplishments. Telling your child you have noticed how hard she works in everything she does is a good start. Pointing out the time she scored the winning goal is not.
  3. Praise, but don’t nag.
  4. Be positive.
  5. Stay calm. Remember to breathe.

This is an opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation about your child’s self-perception. You might be pleasantly surprised at the valuable insight you will discover when you point out your child’s positive characteristics.

When you are done with this exercise, your child will be ready to brainstorm for college essay topics.

At Wow, students who come into the process knowing how to reflect are better prepared to answer essay prompts with stories that are genuine and show the type of insight admissions directors say they wish they saw more often.