Writing a Winning College Application Essay for High School Homeschoolers

How to write the college essay for homeschool high schoolers. With expert tips for editing. #collegeessay #homeschooltocollege  #collegeessayforhomeschoolers  This post may included affiliate links to products that we love and have used or would use in our  own homeschool. Please see my disclosure policy.

Do you have a high schooler who is aiming towards college?  Or do you have a senior who will be starting the application process this fall?

Does the idea of helping them get their college essay done give you pause?

As it turned out, the essay was not nearly as hard as my teen thought it would be, and her essay helped her get accepted by each of the colleges she applied to. 

This Personal College Essay serves as an introduction of your student to the college, similar to what an interview would do.  

And it is a personal essay, of course.  But for many teens, it can be quite difficult to write about oneself.  

That's why we did a lot of brainstorming.  

The first thing to do, of course, is to locate the college essay prompts. 

The College Essay Prompts

For the Common Application Essay Prompts:

Begin by googling the Common Application, where we found the directions for their essay, and all the essay prompts that were listed there.  I will share the current prompts below in a minute.

For College Applications from the Colleges Themselves

Some colleges use their own applications, and not the common application.  

You will find the information on their college essay on the college's website itself.  

Their essay prompts will not be the same as the ones for the common application.

Here are some sample essay prompts to show you what they might look like and see how we dealt with the whole thing.  

Sample Essay Prompts

1.  Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2.  Describe a difficulty or disability that you have, and how you have worked to overcome it. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

3.  Discuss an event or a place where you felt especially comfortable.  Why was it special to you?  Describe in detail.

4.  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

5.  What skills have your developed in leadership?  How can you use these to help other?

Note - These are sample essay prompts only (NOT THE CURRENT PROMPTS)

Ok, now that we have these sample essay prompts....what did we do next and why?

What is the purpose of the Essay?

The college essay is the best way for the college get to know the student.  So we began by listing the things that we  wanted the college to know....about my teen.  This questions helped us to decide what to focus on.....

What accomplishments, experiences, etc, can best describe your student to the college?  Which prompt will let them tell their story the best?


Together, with your teen, list the things that you want the colleges to know about your teen.  Things that would tell the college the important things about her.  

My teen listed - leadership activities, and her interests, such as videomaking, dance, and photography.  Of course, your list will be entirely different.

We also thought of those things that would show perseverance, such as doing irish dance over 8 years.  And we also listed her volunteer activities.  Of course, every student's list, would be different.

Choosing the College Essay Prompt

Look back at the essay prompts, and think about how your list might fit with one of the prompts.  

Nancy Burgoyne, from Fat Envelope Essays, says:

"Choose a topic that allows your student to shine. Think of the essay as kind of an interview with college admissions.  Pick whichever prompt will help the college to get to know your teen better."(taken from an interview)

My teen wanted to talk about a special youth conference that she attended, that was meaningful to her, maybe with essay prompt #4.  

At the same time, she wanted share about her leadership activities so they would know that she had some skills in that area, which suggested essay prompt #5. 

Then she brainstormed a little more, put it away, to take a break from it all.

Brainstorming, and setting it aside was key for her, and 
helped my daughter to de-stress and come back later to it with a clear mind.  

NOTE - Remember that the essay prompts listed above were samples only, NOT the CURRENT ones.

To get the current essay prompts for your senior, click here.

Once you have your current college essay prompts - which of essay prompts would make your student shine?  

Which one inspires him/her?  What is he/she passionate about?  

If your teen chooses to write about a hardship, I recommend focusing on the positives, not the difficulties, and focus on how they overcame the issues.

Picking the right college essay prompt from the list on the Common Application is key to a successful college entrance essay.

After a break, my teen made her decision on which essay prompt she would use.  Sometimes inspiration comes more from the 
breaks that we take....

By spending time out in nature, somewhere in those beautiful waves, one can do their best thinking, right?

Final Decision on Essay Prompt

My teen decided to write about her youth conference, an event that had a lot of personal meaning for her, and something that she was passionate about.  

This is the actual essay prompt that she chose (from the choices in 2013)....... 

SAMPLE - Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

Working on the College Essay 

 My teen then started by writing out a first draft, focusing on her youth conference and how it affected her personally.

From that she drew up an outline. choosing her main points and then she began working on her opening paragraph.  

The opening paragraph is key.

With this outline in hand, she worked on her draft for a few days, then let it sit.

When she got it out again, it was fresh and she reworked it into a second draft.  

Taking some time off was helpful, as it gave her time to order and rework her phrases.  This helped her to share herself in a more authentic way.  

Review Essay Structure Basics 

She then made time for revisions, reviewing the structure of a good essay, then taking time for editing. 

Note - Using the basic structure of a five paragraph essay is a good starting point

Time 4 Writing has a nice review of the 5 paragraph essay, although it focuses on writing the essays for the SAT or ACT.  But the principles are the same.

Good grammar, spelling, punctuation and organization of the essay are all points that the colleges will be looking for.

It is nice to have an outside person to check the essay for editing purposes, and this is allowed.  Otherwise, the essay needs to be independently written by the student, of course. 

Make Revisions 

Put the first draft away for awhile. When your teen gets it out again, she can get a fresh look at it.

Reviewing the structure of a good essay is a great thing to do with your teen when they are revising or before they start writing.

Here's two resources for doing just that:

1.   Writing an Essay by QUT University
2.   Basic Essay Structure from CSSC


The revising must be done independently, but an adult can offer some help in the editing of the college essay.  That is allowed.

Did you know that you can do that? 

It is important that this essay be, of course entirely written by the student, but it is allowed and recommended to have another person read it over.

 The Colleges will be looking for:

  • Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation 
  • And organization of the essay are crucial.  
  • Having your teen read their essay over multiple times, for editing was important.  

Advice from College Counselors

"Decide which topic has the most potential; it should be something that you feel strongly about so that it really comes alive when you write about it." 
.........from  11 Tips for Writing the College Essay, by the American School Counselor Association 

"Write about common topics, real experiences that you teen has had and how they were meaningful to them.  Avoid being too creative or controversial." 
..........from Nancy Burgoyne, of Fat Envelope Essays

"A good essay will generally deal with..a single incident or a small part of your experience. Don't try to cram everything in. .Additionally, since you are limited on space, you should avoid listing your accomplishments. These things will appear on your transcript and in other parts of the application."
..........from Homeschool World -Your College Admissions Essay,  Austin Webb

And again, if you are writing about hardships, I recommend focusing on the positives, not the difficulties, but speak to how they were overcome.  And how that made you a better person today.

This shows the college your student's problem solving skills, and motivation, and resilience.

Where To Access Help

1.  From IEW: 

Writing an Eye-Catching College Application Essay
---Posted by Genevieve in College Prep 

2. From 7 Sisters Homeschool:

Guide to Writing a College Application Essay, written by a homeschool college counselor, Vicki Tillman.

This guide is less than $6.00 and simple-to-use guide to the college essay, which I wish I had had when my daughter was applying to college.

 Using this frugal college essay guide can really help build up your teen's confidence....and help get them writing their own winning college application essay.

So that's how we went about tackling the college essay. And, boy, did my teen feel good to get it uploaded!  

Choosing which essay prompt to use, one that inspired my daughter, was key for us.

Have you seen my book/kindle on getting into college yet?

College in Mind - 2nd Edition

Have you seen the Facebook group I admin called Homeschooling through high school?  You are invited to join us there, to get answers to your questions, and join in our supportive community.

Thanks for stopping by BJ's Homeschool,

Betsy is mom to her now college grad, whom she homeschooled through high school.  She blogs at BJ's Homeschool, about the early yearshighschool
collegegifted/2e and wrote -Homeschooling High School with College in Mind, 2nd Edition,   She offers homeschool help through messages at BJ's Consulting and has had some of her articles picked up by the Huffington Post.

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  1. This is a very practical, easy to follow post!! Thanks for sharing at Inspired By Me Mondays :) Hope you come back again!!!

    1. Thanks, +Rachel DeBruin, for your comment. And I enjoyed the posts on Inspired By Me Mondays, great place to share, too!


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