Is Professional College Essay Help Permissible?

The Dean offers advice on whether it’s okay to hire a college essay advisor.

The Dean’s response is a bit equivocal. Appears to suggest that help is okay if the “student’s voice” is retained.

My opinion is that a college applicant should be allowed to receive a brief critique regarding tone, structure, grammar, punctuation, and responsiveness. Raises the issue of how to define “brief”.

Not sure, but I suspect that essay assistance became tolerated as the number of international applicants from non-English speaking countries became an important source of tuition revenue.

I would say that whether an admissions person can tell if a student got too much help will vary greatly. But enough editing or the like and will it cause the admissions person to start to question the essay can also be a problem. It throws the whole application in question IMHO.

Some things that are a give away that it has been edited are word choice, phrasing and one I just heard about; two spaces at the end of a sentence. Students today use one space, the older generation, like me, will typically use two. Also, if poor student in English writes a masterpiece of an essay, red flags rise all over the place.

Having someone read and comment on the essay should be the extent of assistance in my book.

My kids took on line classes with CTY at early age. But we were not very impressed. with it. Fortunately they went to very top high schools often mentioned here on the site. The high school taught them very good writing skills. Writing is a such an important skill to have during college and in professional life. Coming and learning English as a second language has been hard on me. That is why we are searching for a good program at early ages. I can not emphasize learning writing at very early age and with maximum dedication.

Is it worth talking to other people in the planning phase (figuring out what I should focus on) or better to just go for editing after? I’m an okay writer but am having trouble coming up with a good topic that brings out my personality like most of the Common App and supplement prompts I’ve seen so I’m trying to get tips on how to balance this from people who’ve done well.

I’d suggest writing the first draft without talking to anyone. Otherwise those inputs would possibly steer you in a direction that really isn’t you.

Have people read that first draft and get to see what you are thinking. Then they can make suggestions.

The goal of a college essay editor or advisor is to help students figure out how to put their best foot forward in their applications. This is accomplished by encouraging students to write a truthful and compelling narrative, in the student’s own voice, that is uniquely their story. The goal of the college admissions essay is to show (not tell) the person reading it who the student is and what makes them tick, and to allow admissions officers to envision how that student might be a great person to have on campus.

Some students may need a bit of help brainstorming ideas in order to help them get started, while others may just need a second set of eyes to make sure that the essay is coherent and well-written, that there are no “red flags” in terms of topic, tone, or word choice, and that there are no grammatical errors. This help can come from a parent, a teacher, a trusted friend, or a professional essay consultant.

The bottom line is that the work should be done by the student and should be in the student’s own voice.

I’ve seen how private college advisors, tutors, and counselors can help a LOT in preparing applications. Applying to college is confusing and stressful, and personal guidance from a professional can be unbelievably helpful.

I’m more concerned, however, about how people tend to ignore the ethical implications of using these private college advisors. The conversation tends to focus around “will a college admissions officer know I’ve gotten extra help?” and not “how does this extra guidance give me an advantage that many other of my hardworking, talented peers may not have the privilege and means to access for themselves.” It seems so hypocritical when the college admissions bribery scandal made headlines for months (and yes, that was a LOT of money in illegal bribes to spend on college admissions) but those bribes and private college counselors really are all born from the same motivation and serve the same ends-- parents just want what’s best for their kids, and if that means getting “extra help,” this becomes the norm.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own personal situation when you’re applying to college, but I wish we all made more of an effort to think about how, when supplementary college essay advisors or private tutors becomes the “norm,” we’re all playing a part in perpetuating systems of inequality and unequal access to higher education. I wish we (and this is very much a collective we) recognized this more.