Essay Readers: Tips for reviewing essays

@essay-readers @compmom
Hi All,

So far, this program is going really well! Thanks so much to all who have volunteered! The response has been great and you seem to be getting some value from it too.

There have been a few questions about how to approach essay review. I thought it would be useful to put your tips here so we can look in one place. Please feel free to add your tips below.

Meanwhile, I’ll start by adding some basic advice:

The first suggestions might be based on your initial reading.

  • What worked for you in the essay?
  • Did you feel that you understood who the person was after you read it?
  • What’s your impression after the first read?
  • What do you think is the main issue to work on?

Maybe you felt that a few paragraphs were disorganized and didn’t have a cohesive idea. Maybe a sentence would work better elsewhere in the essay. Maybe there was too much telling and not enough showing, so the essay needs more detail.

I wouldn’t focus too much on perfect grammar and punctuation. However, if there is missing punctuation that interferes with comprehension or makes it too hard to read something, such as run on sentences, then you can feel free to mention that.

We are not an editing service and students should not expect us to proofread for every little error in punctuation and grammar. Essays that are too polished can raise red flags. Also, we have asked students to limit reading requests to a max of two readers per essay, unless a reader has to pass it on to someone else for any reason

Perfection isn’t the goal. We are offering them an extra pair of eyes and doing our best to offer a free service that is hopefully useful in some way.

Here is a link to a mock example of how an essay reader could assist a student. Want to Help Students with Their College Essays? Become a Volunteer Essay Reader on CC - #12 by Lindagaf

If you’d like to volunteer as an essay reader, follow this link: Want to Help Students with Their College Essays? Become a Volunteer Essay Reader on CC


I always ask the students to read their essays aloud. This is a great way to catch rhythm and pacing issues, repetition of words/phrases and typos. Also a good way for the student to realize if the essay is coherent or if there are jumps that they silently ‘fill in’ when reading to themselves.


Oh, another thing (and not exactly sure this is advice per se). I explicitly write to each student that my feedback and opinions are just that, my opinions. That they should take what they find helpful in my thoughts and feel free to leave what they don’t. That I won’t have hurt feelings about them taking or leaving my advice and my only goal is to help them have an essay that is stronger and that they own the process of re-writing and revision.

I remind myself that these are 17/18 year old children and they might need to hear that so they don’t feel pressured to change something that they don’t agree with.


I first look for cohesion in the messaging. Do I get a clear sense of the qualities the writer is trying to convey. Often the messaging is disjointed as they try to shoehorn anecdotes/events that they think are interesting to the reader. Also at times the “show” is about others rather themselves. They lose valuable word count to something not about themselves that can be done in much fewer words.

I also look to see if the first paragraph grabs my attention. On the other hand, sometimes the lead while interesting, has little or nothing to do with the main message. Applicants have to realize that a first reader probably is spending no more than 5 minutes reading the essay. Don’t make them guess as to what you are trying to convey.


I would say always start with a positive comment.

I think that “good enough” is good enough for most students. Occasionally you run into an essay that has potential to be outstanding and occasionally you run into essays that can do harm. In both cases, a little extra effort can accomplish a lot.

I always remind them that the essay is theirs, and so, as @beebee3 wrote, they can take or leave advice. Sometimes we adults can potentially ruin an essay! I love it when they come back and have kept something that I questioned. That kind of persistence and confidence is wonderful.

Students are so anxious and it is a great service to reassure them.


Great ideas. Just doing one so far I had to pick from 3. Just like my son it was very obvious that the one the student didn’t like was the best one. I helped mold it and let him see it from a different view point. Once he did the light bulb went off.

But to me it’s important to know the major and stats since I think the essay should reflect this.

What do other think? Of course this led to what colleges they should apply to (lots of reaches) and yes became more then just reading the essay. I enjoy that personally but yes takes more time.

We really haven’t even begun the season and know we will get bogged down very soon.



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My point above is a 4.0/34 student shouldn’t write like a 2.5 /25 studemt


That’s why we ask them what colleges they are applying to. If the student is writing like a 2.5 student and says they are applying to HYPSM, we might look at the essay differently, or offer other advice if we want to. I don’t think the major matters, students change their mind about that all the time and even kids applying to direct admit programs still submit a personal statement.

We can leave it to each reader to decide what they want to discuss with the student. Don’t feel you need to be a private college advisor too :smiley:

Good points.

Thank you for all the essay advice for the readers.

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