Helping With Your Child’s College Essays

Parents often want to help their kids with their college essays.  The question is, how much “help” is too much?  How can you truly help your child craft a college essay that will best represent them, and where are you stepping over the line?

Suzie Wynne, Diana Hanson and I (Evelyn Jerome-Alexander) have been guiding students and families through their college search and application process for about a decade each.  We recorded the short discussion to the right to help you know what you can do and what you really shouldn’t.  Here are the key points:

It has to sound like a teenager wrote it.  Colleges can tell the difference between a teenager’s writing and a forty- or fifty-something person’s writing.  It should sound conversational – the way a teenager would tell the story.  Colleges will not look kindly on an applicant if they suspects a parent wrote all or part of a student’s essay.  And trust us, it’s really easy to tell.

It has to match other evidence of their writing ability.  Keep in mind that colleges often see multiple writing samples from students:  the main essay and sometimes supplemental essays.  Additionally, of course they can see the student’s progression of grades and rigor in their English classes.  So if a student who generally gets Bs in college prep English shows up with fabulous, flowery, flowing (or alliterative!) essays, the colleges may wonder how exactly that happened.  Don’t leave them any room to suspect.

It has to be their story, and reflect their perspective.  You’re the parent, and yes, you’ve seen everything your kiddo has experienced in their lifetime – as a witness.  But only they have experienced it through their eyes and with their heart.  THAT’S what colleges want to hear – how they think, what they believe, what they value.  The college essay is really each student’s opportunity to become a human being in the eyes of the admission officers who are making the decision.  Let their story shine through.

Most importantly, every time you go into your child’s college essay and make edits, you’re telegraphing to them that you don’t think what they wrote is good enough.  If none of the above convinces you to let your kiddo take the lead on their own college essays, take a step back and consider what they’ll think and how they’ll feel about your “help.”

I also was the guest on the College Scoops podcast recently, and we discussed this same topic!  Can parents help with their child’s college essay?  Enjoy the short conversation by clicking below.

Finally, we’ve written many posts with essay guidance over the years:

We hope all of this helps.  And if you need a little hand-holding through your college search and application process, please feel free to get in touch!  That’s what we do – and we’ve been doing it for over a decade.

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