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Prepare for College Essays by Journaling

How can you prepare your sophomore or junior for the college process ahead?

You may have read my posts 10 Things You Can Do for Your College-Bound 10th Grader and Your 11th Grader’s 11 Steps to Success. But you’re still worried about those dreaded essays… What if your teen is a brilliant mathematician, but has no knack for the written word? Or a creative writing whiz whose talent cannot be channeled into a practical activity like college essays? What about the painful push-pull of high-achieving parents versus a sullen, procrastinating teen, vying for autonomy through passive aggressive behavior?

The worst thing you can do is force the issue too early. If you try to micromanage your kid now, the conflict will become explosively insane by the time he or she is a rising senior, and cooperation really counts. So what do you do now? The first step is to bring your own anxieties under control. My post, Senior parent? Learn to paint, suggests finding an engaging activity to get your mind off the college process, especially if tempted to micromanage your high school student. Having your own passionate passtime will ground you. Foster detachment that will offer your child some needed space to grow and develop an individual voice.

Your student needs writing practice, more than provided at school. He or she especially needs practice writing about self: struggle with big questions, reflections on ordinary experiences, expressions of anger, love, grief or quest for justice in response to real situations, views portrayed through an artistic medium such as poetry.

How else can a student be expected to have a voice in college essays, if he or she has never “tried out” a voice before?

Magazines in the grocery store encourage adults to “keep a journal” for catharsis, processing of challenging life events, reduction of stress, and living from a deeper, more spiritual place. What about teenagers? Teens are processing enormous challenges (physically, intellectually, psychologically, sexually, philosophically, and spiritually). Don’t you remember adolescence as one of the most difficult times in your life? Crucible,  roller coaster, wild ride over white rapids! Journaling is a tool that can help a teen through stormy upheaval with more inner direction.

My son asked all the big questions during his adolescence. He was supported by a high school seminar-style philosophy course, which offered a venue for exchanging ideas about consciousness, human nature, good and evil, or God’s existence, with like-minded young people. However, my son often wanted to work out things for himself. My husband gave him a little moleskin notebook that he called his “Thought Book.” There he recorded any issues with which he was wrestling,  jotting down possible ideas for resolution.

“Writing is thinking.” My son’s journaling experience developed his “writing and thinking muscles,” yielding high grades in philosophy and humanities papers. More importantly, however,  it brought him more in touch with who he was as a human being. College essays flowed out naturally after years of keeping a “Thought Book”!

Suggest journaling to your teen. It may not be as philosophical as a “Thought Book.” It may be a travelogue about family summer trips. Or a diary describing everyday occurrences, with feelings about those events. Or an internet blog (with good judgment about what to share publicly). Practice makes perfect, but writing is so therapeutic and good for the soul, a young person may not even realize that he or she is “practicing.”

Not only will the college essays be easier, but decisions will be easier too–because your evolving young adult will be more in-touch with that all-important “inner voice.”

Related posts: “Why University of X” College Essay?, How Important Is the College Essay, Really?, College Applications and the Lost Arts of Reading and Writing.