College Application Essays

When I causually mentioned the dangers of professional editing of a college application essay yesterday, a reader asked to me expound. So here goes.

First a little background. I’m a mom of a high-school senior and a writer. I’m not a professional college guidance counselor. And this is my oldest child, so my previous college-application experience dates back (ummmm!) thirty-five years.

The entire twenty-first century college application experience, however, is completely different from when I was in high school. We were actually told you couldn’t study for the SAT … and so we didn’t.

Now, EVERYBODY does some kind of prep. Because even the kids at the top of curve are studying (a book, an online course, a group course, something!) it means that those kids that don’t study are at a disadvantage.

So, what about the application itself? How much help are other kids getting? And if those other kids are getting help, won’t it put those that don’t get help at a disadvantage? Here’s my answer.

As a parent, I am involved in the whole application process. I helped my son create the list of schools he is applying to. I helped him to actually visit a number of those schools. I am helping him organizationally by putting address labels on the envelopes for teacher recommendations (which are all over my kitchen table at this very moment.) I am helping him by keeping track of all the deadlines.

And I am giving him feedback on his essay. But I am not actually going to put my fingers to the keys and edit his essay. And here’s why.

This year’s crop of high-school seniors is the first batch to take the new SAT that includes a twenty-minute essay. And this “unedited” essay will be available (as a download) to college admissions officers. And I have heard from at least four admissions officers that if the voice of an application essay is radically different from the tone of the unedited SAT essay, this is going to “raise suspicions” about who actually authored the application essay.

Let me repeat that. A college essay that differs dramatically in style/voice from the one on the SAT is going to look out of place. Keep this in mind before hiring an editing service, or hacking away at it yourself.


  1. The Word Smith says

    Good work with helping your son through the application process. It’s not easy — for either parent or child. The desire to make an essay perfect while keeping the same tone used on the updated SAT is difficult. Admissions officers do recognize that kids have much more time to complete an application essay, but the authenticity issue is important to consider.
    Some editing services manage to effectively improve an application essay without changing the tone of voice. For example, my friend knows a founder of and received a free edit after he had paid more money at a more renowned center that essentially re-wrote his graduate school personal statement. The Editing Authority editor managed to improve the structure of sentences and paragraphs while maintaining critical content that made my friend’s personal statement unique.
    The moral of the story: Expensive doesn’t equal better. And ask questions to either online editing services or professional centers before shelling out the cash.