Only 3 percent of High School Seniors

Write at an Advanced Level

Since introducing our College Planning Cohort Program in 2013, we have witnessed firsthand the many challenges experienced by high school seniors in writing college and scholarship essays. However, the narrative writing responses submitted by middle school and high school students during our summer college planning boot camps further reveal the depth of the writing challenges experienced by the majority of middle school and high school students throughout the country, and which is reflected in the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Report:

  • Half of students in grades 8 (54 percent) and 12 (52 percent) only perform at the Basic level in writing. (The Basic level denotes partial mastery of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.)
  • 24 percent of students at both grades 8 and 12 perform at the Proficient level in writing. (The NAEP Proficient level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students performing at this level have clearly demonstrated the ability to accomplish the communicative purpose of their writing.)
  • 3 percent of high school seniors perform at the Advanced level. (This level represents superior performance.)

With 97 percent of high school seniors failing to write at an advanced level, tragic consequences are inevitable when thousands of dollars in college and private scholarships are at stake. The applications of students with well-written high quality essays and writing responses will rise to the top of the applicant pool, while 97 percent of students’ essays will fail to take advantage of the opportunity for shifting college admissions and scholarship decisions into their favor.  We have worked with many students with top grades and near perfect SAT/ACT scores who began the process as awful writers.

Loren (GPA 4.0; SAT 1570) and Sam (GPA 4.0; SAT 1470) are such students:

Loren is now a 4th-year student at Williams College and Sam is a 2021 Rhodes Scholar in his first year at the University of Oxford pursuing his Ph.D. in Economics.

Reconsider ACT and SAT Prep. With over 1,600 colleges and universities moving permanently to holistic admission and making test scores optional, students should consider refocusing their energy and investment in trying to increase test scores to creating a solid college plan and developing well-written and high quality essays. 

How Bad are The Writing Responses of High School Seniors?

Following is a question from the NAEP Assessment for high school seniors. The question is representative of a typical multi-prompt question for supplemental essays for college and scholarship applications:
Your school is sponsoring a voter registration drive for 18-year-old high school students. You and three of your friends are talking about the project. Your friends say the following,
Friend 1:                     

“I’m working on the young voters’ registration drive. Are you going to come to it and register? You’re all 18, so you can do it. We’re trying to help increase the number of young people who vote and it shouldn’t be too hard — I read that the percentage of 18- to 20-year-olds who vote increased in recent years. We want that percentage to keep going up.”

Friend 2:

“I’ll be there. People should vote as soon as they turn 18. It’s one of the responsibilities of living in a democracy.”

Friend 3:“I don’t know if people should even bother to register. One vote in an election isn’t going to change anything.”
Do you agree with friend 2 or 3? Write a response to your friends in which you explain whether you will or will not register to vote. Be sure to explain why and support your position with examples from your reading or experience. Try to convince the friend with whom you disagree that your position is the right one.
The 2 percent of students providing an “excellent” essay response, and 9 percent of students providing a “skillful” response, would have a clear advantage over 89 percent of students competing for college admission or for a scholarship. Not only do so many high school seniors not recognize that they have such poor writing skills, but when they are denied admission to college or scholarships, they rarely, if ever, view their essays as the reason for their denial.

Writing Support

We offer comprehensive writing support to assist students in becoming better writers, and assisting high school seniors in developing well-written high quality college and scholarship essays.

Writing Center: Our all-virtual Writing Center is opened on Wednesday evening, from 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm, and by appointment, throughout the school year. Through the writing center, students in any grade level may request writing support for homework, essays, research papers, or test preparation.

Primary areas of focus include:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Sentence Structure
  • Responses to multi-prompt questions

Through direct instruction, modeling, and feedback, students are guided in becoming better writers and developing strategies for reducing anxiety as part of a comprehensive approach to the writing process.

4-session Writing Workshop Series: Presented by Mychal-David Wynn (Amherst College BA English), to provide step-by-step guidance through the writing process. This session is the foundational session for assisting students in understanding the elements of writing essays for applying to college and for scholarships beyond what is typically taught in high school language arts classes.

Students will be required to work through the writing process between sessions. The sessions will cover such areas as rhetorical arguments; non-cognitive variables; voice; responding to multi-prompt questions; flow; and demonstrating college-level grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation.

  • Scholarship Essays: Developed through the 4-session writing workshops or via one-on-one guidance and review.
  • Supplemental Essays: Developed through the 4-session writing workshops or via one-on-one guidance and review.
  • Responding to Writing Prompts: Some students, who are otherwise good writers, may struggle with understanding how to respond to writing prompts, or even what a college or scholarship provider requires a response to the multi-question prompt.

Request the session or level of support that is right for you. Writing support is offered at no charge to students attending school with one of our school district partners and minimally priced for students in other areas.

4-session Essay Writing Workshops

One-on-One Support