Today's College Essay Tip: Be Real
Yes, an anecdote about your son's positive impact on a kid, or a story about having to leave his comfort zone at his summer camp counseling job makes a better college essay than how well he did in the stock market, the DECA competition, or debate team. The purpose of the essay is to reveal a fine character (there are many character traits), not to "impress."
In the same vein, parents often ask me to make the language in their kids' essays more sophisticated. No doubt they want their kids to present themselves professionally to colleges. But in real life, most students don't use what we used to call "SAT words" in their writing. As the admissions officer says below:
Be real. As a former college admissions officer (Jessica Velasco, Northwestern University), I read thousands of essays—good and bad. The essays that made the best impressions on me were the essays that were real. The students did not use fluff, big words, or try to write an essay they thought admission decisions makers wanted to read. The essays that impressed me the most were not academic essays, but personal statements that allowed me to get to know the reader. I was always more likely to admit or advocate for a student who was real and allowed me to get to know them in their essay.