There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Help
By SARAH ZASLOW
A student who asks, “Who should help me when I’m writing my college essays?” is already on the right track. Everyone needs writing help, especially on work as important as college application essays. But who helps you and how much they help are very important. It is even possible to have too much help. You need readers whose skills will complement one another and help you write a great essay.
Our Recommendation for the Most Help
- Limit the number of "helpers" to 4
- 1 − 2 people who know you really well
- 1 college admissions expert
- 1 final proofreader
Limit the Number of "Helpers" to 4.
There is a saying that “too many cooks spoil the soup.” If you have too many people help with your essay, each one will add a little of him or herself. The contributions may not mix well and besides, the whole point of a college application essay is that it should convey your flavor. That means you’ll have to choose your four very carefully.
1 − 2 People Who Know You Really Well.
These could be your parents, an older sibling, or your favorite teacher. Your application essay needs to share all of the unique things about you that can’t be found in your GPA and list of extracurriculars. People who are fond of your quirks and admire your strengths can help you make sure that the best of you shows up in your essay. These readers help with your message, theme, or main idea.
1 College Admissions Expert.
This could be a private college counselor or the college counselor at your school. You need someone with the inside scoop who can read your essay and tell you how it will be interpreted by college admissions officers. You might think something is funny, but perhaps it can be misinterpreted as unflattering. You might think something is poignant and powerful, but really it’s a cliche that college admissions officers have heard a million times. An expert in college admissions can help you steer clear of these mistakes. Your expert helps with word choice and phrasing.
1 Final Proofreader.
This is someone you trust to make sure all of the spelling, grammar, and phrasing is exactly right. English teachers have spent their whole lives training for this job, right? Actually, many English teachers hate proofreading. But for really important essays, English teachers know it’s important to have no errors and are usually happy to help. This reader makes sure you won’t be hurt by silly mistakes and puts the final polish on your essay.
Can I ignore suggestions if I don’t want to make a change?
One reason to have three or four readers is so that you can compare their advice. Sometimes their advice will conflict and you’ll have to make a decision. But if two people say the same thing, even if you disagree, it’s probably a good idea to make the revision.
In the end, it’s your essay. You’ve spent four years becoming who you are and your application essay is a chance to tell college admissions officers all about it. Choose your three or four readers carefully and trust them, but have confidence in yourself, too.
About Sarah Zaslow
Sarah Zaslow graduated from Princeton University in 2008 with degrees in Religion and Public Policy. While at Princeton, Sarah tutored both undergraduate and graduate students in writing at the Princeton University Writing Center. After graduation, Sarah taught English at Abraham Lincoln High School in west Denver as part of Teach for America. She currently lives in Evanston, IL.
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