Parents of high school seniors are easy to spot in January and February. They have a worried air about them, appear sleep deprived, and will correct your grammar compulsively. If you haven’t personally lived through the period in your high schooler’s life where they spend hours filling out college forms and writing inspiring personal essays, you might not sympathize, but believe me, your time is coming

The personal essay is one of the most important and challenging aspects of the whole college application process (although that FAFSA ranks up there too), because it must be technically perfect and self reflective. It must be written, edited, and then rewritten. Your student must be careful, too, to completely answer the essay question (which seems self evident, but isn’t always). Sometimes there is an added little phrase in a question, like “… and how did that change your way of thinking?” or “… how did that make you a whole person?” Not only should you answer the question perfectly, but you should also flat-out say, “… and the answer to your question is… ” If part of the question includes “… how does that make you whole?” then somewhere in the essay your student should say, “I feel more whole when I’m singing because… “

As your student is writing their personal essays, encourage them to incorporate as many details as possible that are unique to the college they’re writing to. These details come from their interactions with the college, and could include: “From the first time I met you at the college fair in the Seattle Event Center in 2012… ” or “From my college visit in March of 2012, I’ve always felt that you are the friendliest of people… ” My son included information about the class he took when he visited campus, and how they talked about art, literature and Latin, all in a history class that he sat in on. That’s the kind of detail that is important to include.

Before you submit a personal essay, proofread it a million times. One of the things that can really help is to enlarge the font, print it out, and read it much slower than you normally would. Then you’ll be able to notice any grammar, writing, and punctuation that may not be caught by a computer spelling or grammar check.

Lastly, request some feedback from others. It really doesn’t matter whether they’re professional writers or not, just get their reaction. They also might notice errors that you don’t, because their eyes are not glazed over from reading the thing 20 times. Feel free to incorporate other people’s feedback, but make sure to keep the student’s ‘voice’ in the essay throughout, at all costs. This is their essay, and should be their effort throughout the process. Once you’ve sent it off, reward your student for their hard work, and a job well done!