Whom Should I Ask for Help with My College Essay?
Writing your personal statement may seem daunting; after all, it’s the one piece that will form the core of your presentation of your character and ambitions to admissions officers. However, fear not! The good news is that you likely have many people in your life to whom you can turn for help.
So whom should you approach for help with your essay? There is no set rule on who can or can’t provide advice and assistance—as long as you are the one doing the actual writing, of course. (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 default choices not only because they are experts on the fundamentals of writing and grammar, but also because they are familiar with your writing style and strengths. You can ask your English teachers to proofread your essay—catch grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, typos, and awkward phrasing—as well as offer suggestions on structure and content.
Keep in mind that many of your classmates may be asking your teachers for help, too, so don’t take it personally if the teacher you ask is unable to help you within the time frame you need. Thus, during peak college applications period, it is crucial to give your teachers at least 3 weeks’ time to read and offer suggestions.
You can also consider asking someone who taught you English in an earlier grade, since they are 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 are willing to provide feedback on your essay.
Keep in mind that although they are authorities on the subject of writing, you shouldn’t accept every suggestion blindly.
Think twice about edits that render your college essay overly “academic” in tone. Also remember that what your teachers are used to looking for in a stand-out essay is likely different from what admissions officers look for. With any content suggestions, always remember your overall message, and reflect on whether these changes would accentuate or detract from your application theme.
Peers and Classmates
Another good option is your peers and classmates. For the personal statement in particular, they are probably more likely than teachers to gauge whether your essay is a good reflection of you and your voice. It is called the personal statement for a reason, and your essay should definitely do its best to convey who you are to a reader.
However, they are also students who haven’t been through the admissions process before, so take this fact into consideration. Contextualize their advice, and always consider whether their suggestions would change the core theme or tone of your essay.
Your School Counselor
A bit part of the school counselor’s job is to guide students through the college application process. Ideally, they should have the keenest eye on what works or doesn’t work for a college essay, and what colleges generally want to see in personal statements.
You can go to your counselor for help with interpreting a prompt if you are struggling with ideas, or for review of an essay you’ve already written. For school-specific essays, your guidance counselor may be able to provide input as to what specific admissions committees like to see. Do remember that your counselor is not an admissions officer, so exercise your own judgement with regards to suggestions.
If you have older siblings or other family members who have been through the college applications 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. As family members, there’s probably going to more transparency; they are probably going to more direct with suggestions, and you can voice your own concerns more clearly.
Family members who attended or were accepted to your target schools recently are the best audience. They will be able to tell you what particular qualities the school values, and what they think gave them the edge in their application. (See following section).
If they didn’t apply to the schools on your list, it may be best to just treat them as another casual reader, and use this chance to catch small technical errors. If they applied more than a few years ago, also keep in mind that the process may have changed, so also take their advice with a grain of salt.
College X Alumni/Alumnae and Current Students
Graduates and current students of 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 have the best sense of 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, it may be a good idea to reach out and ask if they can 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 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 school counselor to see if they might be able to connect you with alumni from a specific college.
Wrapping it Up
Feel free to ask multiple people to read your essay – it’s smart to get different perspectives on your work. Regardless of whom you ask, be sure to always reflect on whether their advice changes the tone or message of your essay. You want to be sure you’re preserving your unique voice and that your essays reflect who you are.
Last but not least, thank your readers! Reading your essay and giving comments takes time. A thank you note is always a nice touch as well.
How CollegeVine can help with your essays
CollegeVine offers many resources for students at any stage of the college applications process. 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.