Writing your college essay may seem daunting, but it is important to remember that you are not alone in the process. There are many people who are likely willing to help you, and sometimes all you need to do to is ask for it.
So whom should you approach for help with your essay? There is no set rule on who can and cannot provide advice and assistance—as long as you are the one doing the actual writing, of course. (And it’s important to remember that if you don’t write your own essay, the consequences can be severe.) Read on for a list of the type of people who might be able to help out, as well as the pros and cons of each.
Your English Teachers
Your English teachers are natural choices not only because they are experts on the fundamentals of writing and grammar, but also because they are familiar with your writing in particular. English teachers can proofread your essay—catching grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, typos, and awkward phrasing—as well as edit it for structure and content.
Keep in mind that many of your classmates may be asking your teachers for help, too, so don’t be offended if the teacher you ask seems too overwhelmed or is unable to help you within the time frame you need. If everyone seems to be asking your twelfth-grade English teacher, consider asking someone who taught you English in an earlier grade, since he or she is probably getting fewer requests. Or, think about asking someone who taught you a different subject, such as social studies or history. Writing is a skill required in a myriad of subjects, so it is probable that there are other teachers who are familiar with your writing and willing to provide feedback on your essay.
However, you should watch out for English teachers that edit your college essay to be too “academic” in nature. Remember that your college essay should be tonally and structurally different from most papers you may have written for class, so your teacher may be editing it in accordance with his or her English class guidelines, rather than based on what a college admissions committee might want to see.
Also understand that your teachers are probably not experts on the application process, since their job is to teach English, not spend all their time thinking about admissions. This makes them particularly susceptible to misunderstanding individual schools’ preferences. Therefore, you may not want to make all the edits your teacher offers, especially when it comes to content. English teachers ultimately may be best suited for general proofreading or specific grammar or diction related questions.
Peers and Classmates
Your peers or classmates may be able to help you gauge whether or not your essay is a good reflection of you and your voice, but, like you, they have never been through the process themselves, so they don’t really know what admissions committees want to see in your essay.
While classmates can help ensure that your essay is an accurate reflection of your personality, they don’t know the specifics of the admission process, since, like you, they are going through it for the first time. Additionally, as with your English teachers, they may not know what the best style for a college essay is versus that of other types of papers and assignments, so be sure to contextualize their advice. While it may not be smart to follow their guidance in all aspects of content, structure, and tone, these figures can help you gauge how well your essay conveys who you are to a reader–and ensuring your essay is a true reflection of your personality is certainly important.
Your Guidance Counselor
If your school has a good guidance department and has been helpful with other aspects of the process, your guidance counselor may be able to provide valuable advice for your essay. Since your guidance counselor is there to help you with the process anyway, asking him or her to take a look at your essay could be a good idea. He or she can might be able to provide a clear idea of what colleges want to see in your essay, as well as help you interpret the prompt if you are struggling with ideas. If he or she knows the particular colleges to which you are applying well, your guidance counselor might be able to provide input as to what specific admission committees want to see in an essay—but it is important to understand that your counselor may not know the ins and outs of the schools to which you applying, to be aware of his or her limitations as an essay reader if that is the case.
It is also very possible that your school doesn’t have a strong guidance department, so if that is the case, your counselor may not be the best choice to help you with your essay. He or she may not always be able to provide the most accurate advice regarding specific schools, especially schools to which students at your school do not typically apply. Additionally, your guidance counselor may be working with many students, so he or she may be unable to provide the kind of attention your essay needs.
If you have older siblings or other family members who have been through the college process within the past few years, they might also be a good resource for questions and other support, particularly if they applied to the same or similar colleges to the ones on your list. Since they went through the process recently, they understand what you’re going through, and may be able to offer helpful advice or tips beyond what a guidance counselor or teacher can provide. However, if they didn’t apply to the schools on your list, their knowledge of specific prompts and essays may be somewhat limited. Likewise, they might not be aware of how the application process has changed since they went through it. If the schools you are applying to are completely different than the schools your sibling(s) did, you may want to forgo their advice – each school is looking for something different, and advice that works for one may actually work against you for another.
Keep in mind that your parents may not be the best resource. If they applied to college, it was probably a while ago, so they may not know what the process is like now. Additionally, they are among the least objective of the resources you have available. That said, if you want to have your parents take a look at your essay, of course you should feel free to do so; just be sure to keep their advice in context.
College X Alumni/Alumnae and Current Students
Graduates of and current students at a particular college on your list could be one of your best resources, since they can provide the most specialized help for the school in question. These people know the culture of the college and what the admissions committee is looking for in a candidate. Current students may have even responded to the same prompt, and can provide advice unique to that specific essay.
If you know an alum of or current student at a college to which you are applying, particularly if it is one of your first-choice schools, it may be a good idea to reach out and ask him or her to read your essay and offer any school-specific advice. If you don’t know anyone affiliated with the college, consider the various networks you have at your disposal. Perhaps an alum of your high school or current teacher attended that college and could offer advice. Even if you don’t know these people personally, a shared connection might make them more willing to offer support. You could also check with your guidance counselor to see if he or she might be able to connect you with alumni from a specific college.
And, of course, don’t forget us! CollegeVine’s Essay Editing Program can give you a comprehensive review of your essay, or you can sign up for our full program to receive one-on-one support from one of our essay specialists. You will receive individual assistance from member of a curated sample of current students and alumni/ae from top-tier colleges who have been trained by our essay curriculum that is informed by past clients. Therefore, you will have an editor who not only knows the colleges to which your applying, but also knows the admission process backwards and forwards.
Feel free to ask multiple people to read your essay – it’s smart to have diverse opinions on your work. Additionally, having a combination of people—such as a teacher and a relative—will help you get multiple perspectives. While one person may catch grammar mistakes, another may be able to determine if the essay is a good reflection of your personality, and another still could tell you if the essay makes you seem like a good match for the college in question.
Don’t ever be tempted to borrow topics or feel like you have to make particular edits because they told you to do so. Your essay is a place to showcase your personality and individuality, so you should never try to change or misrepresent yourself in order to fit in better with a particular college.
It is also important to keep the drawbacks of asking teachers, family, and peers in mind. If you do choose to ask them for help, carefully go over their edits to ensure that they genuinely improve your essay and don’t detract from the themes and messages in it.
Thanking Your Readers
As with anybody who assists you with the college application process—from recommenders to college interviewers to friends providing support—you should be sure to thank the people you ask to read your essay. Since reading your essay takes time and really is a personal favor, writing a thank you note is a nice touch as well.
If you’re looking for tips on mastering the essays for the particular colleges to which you are applying, check out our school-by-school essay breakdowns.
Looking for more application help? Fill out our free consultation form today and one of our personal admissions specialists will reach out to you.
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Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
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Any student will be familiar with the feeling: that creeping horror as you realise, yes, that 10,000-word essay you’ve known about for months is actually due next week. And, no, you still haven’t done any work on the topic.
For most, the natural response involves a carousel of self-loathing, extension requests, and Red Bull-fuelled all-nighters. For an increasing number of others, though, all it means is spending £50 on a professional to do it for them.
“We know this practice of using formal ‘essay mills’ goes on, and we need to try and educate staff and students to appreciate the consequences of using them,” says Gareth Crossman, head of policy and public affairs at the universities watchdog, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), which has just announced a crackdown. “In a way, it doesn’t matter how widespread it is, but it’s the fact it goes on at all that we must address. It’s about the integrity of our universities.”
Incidentally, though, it is widespread, and getting worse. It is estimated that the ‘professional essay writing industry’ – services offering to quickly complete any assignment, to any standard, for a fee – is now worth over £100m, providing completed assignments to tens of thousands of students at UK universities every year. And where once it was mainly international students looking to produce work with a better standard of English, it’s a growing trend among stressed native speakers too. One of the largest companies, Essaywriter.co.uk, recently told the Telegraphit had seen the number of UK customers increase by a fifth over the last two years.