Opinion: Senior English classes should align with college essay guidance

November 11, 2022 — by Howard Shu
Photo by Anamika Anand
All senior English classes should have one class period dedicated to college essays.
English 12 and AP Literature have done multiple college essay activities, while AP Language hasn’t done any. The classes should all strike a balance in offering just one class period of college essay guidance.

Seniors in AP English Literature and college-prep English 12 this year had sporadic college essay workshops and assignments throughout September, ranging from taking notes on sample essays to writing personal statement drafts for homework. However, AP English Language students haven’t had class time or homework dedicated to the college application process at all.

One main reason for essay workshops being omitted from AP Language was that some students generally opposed the idea of incorporating college essays into school curriculum. Though this is a reasonable sentiment, this decision may have deprived other students of guidance they actually wanted. 

College essay help should not differ based upon English class, especially when the difference in instruction is not planned beforehand. 

I suggest striking a balance between one extreme of offering multiple sessions of essay guidance and the other of no guidance at all: In my view, all senior English classes should have one class period and one homework assignment on college essays.

Many current seniors think college essay guidance is not necessary and there is no viable way to teach such open-ended writing without restricting creativity. Additionally, the school already provides the College and Career Center (CCC) and guidance counselors for essay help. I was one of the initially skeptical seniors, but I was proven wrong.

As an AP Lit student, the college essay guidance genuinely helped me write and revise my own essays, but everything I found applicable came from just one classwork assignment: taking notes on what was effective in Ivy League-accepted essays. This activity opened my mind to various different introduction methods and taught me how to better balance imagery and reflection. 

The improvement in essay writing I drew was distinct from what one would get from individual help at the CCC and with guidance counselors: While individual meetings generally help polish essay structure and refine existing ideas, the activity enhanced my ability to brainstorm ideas, both in terms of general topics and writing styles to complement my points. 

My unexpected positive experience with this assignment makes me believe that some guidance on college essays is a good idea.

Another solid concept from AP Literature was having students write new college essays as a homework assignment for the Common, UC or University of Chicago applications. However, the details of the assignment made it personally not useful: the assignment required students to write too many essays in too little time, not allowing for them to develop ideas and polish them to a satisfactory level before having to submit. 

Additionally, many of my classmates and I already had drafts written for the Common Application and UC application, so we did not have much use for the assignment. It follows that many students also did not have much utility for peer-review or self-review class time for the essays they wrote.

To improve this assignment, students should have the choice of writing supplemental essays so they can better focus their ideas.

Additionally, there does not need to be class time set aside for peer-reviewing since there is ample time and resources outside of class for students to ask for peer-reviewing. For example, students can go to the CCC for personal essay help or ask teachers, counselors, friends or family to review during tutorial or outside of school hours. Moreover, many students do not want classmates reviewing their essays, which was made apparent by the many AP Language students who did not want a peer-review session. 

So, I advise all senior English classes to have one in-class activity similar to the Ivy League one and a homework assignment giving a week to write at least 650 words for college essays, whether it’s through a Common Application essay, UC essays or other supplemental essays. 

There should be nothing beyond that to avoid redundancies and leave time for the rest of the curriculum. Reading and taking notes on a few example essays is all that is necessary since there is not much to lecture about without potentially restricting students’ creative range.

While students’ guidance needs vary, all senior English classes should roughly match in the help they provide. Students choose between the different English classes based on their academic preferences and the rigor level they want — levels of college essay guidance should not change that.

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