Teaching college essays in the classroom

A lot of well-meaning English teachers assign a college essay in the spring of the junior year.  It’s great planning in theory because it lets students complete an essay well in advance of applications.  But in practice, most students won’t take it as seriously as they should.  Until the application deadline is facing them, the exercise doesn’t feel real.  I’ve met so many students who admit that “…the essay I wrote in my English class, I did the night before.”   I don't necessarily blame students, but I hate to see English teachers or counselors waste time like that.

So here’s what I’d do.  First, do the lesson in the fall of the senior year.  Let each student pick one 500-600 word (that’s the typical word limit for long essays) essay prompt from a college of their choice.  They have to submit that essay to you by the due date, and the essay must contain both the prompt and the word limit at the top of the page.

Now the exercise is real.  They get to pick the college. They get to pick the essay.  And they know that this essay is the very same one they will eventually be submitting with their application. 

I’ve found that students take this much more seriously when the deadlines are approaching.  They’ll appreciate and benefit from the feedback even more.  And you’ll get more (well deserved) credit from parents for being there when the student really needed help.