college application essay

Learn to Vet College Application Writing Experts

Read PART ONE on How to Find The Best Essay Help on College Application Essays first…

Here are other potential sources of help for writing personal statement essays for college admissions:

2. High School College Counselors: Remember that most of these counselors have literally hundreds of students to guide through the admissions process. If you are lucky, you might be able to bounce off topic ideas, find direction to other resources or even get them to read your drafts. This can be immensely helpful, since most of these counselors have a strong idea of what makes an effective essay. But you might have to seek out more help on your own.

3. English teachers: I’ve written quite a bit about how most Language Arts classes typically do not teach the type of writing used in college admissions essays, even though I believe that might be changing. Some English teachers now devote a special unit to helping students write these essays, either the fall of their junior year or spring of their senior year. The main red flag I have seen (in my own experience tutoring hundreds to students) is that some teachers give high grades to student essays that are not that great. Also, many English teachers prize the type of formal, pedantic style of writing that actually backfires when writing personal statement essays.

The other challenge with getting help from English teachers is that they are already overloaded with too many students and work demands from all fronts. And many also are tapped by students to write letters of recommendation for college applications. So don’t take it personally if they don’t have time to help you on your essay. I believe the best assistance you can get from an English teacher is if she or he is willing to proofread your piece. No one knows grammar, syntax and the rules of the English language better than they do.

4. Higher education professionals: I often hear from students and parents that they have reached out to a family member or close friend who works at a university for help. Even if these academics are brilliant in their field, I would be very wary of their help with these essays. Many are out of touch with what is considered an effective college application essay these days. And no one loves that academic, write-to-impress, jargon-filled language than professors. My own father was an English professor, and even though he was an intellectual, his writing was so erudite it was almost unreadable for most of us. This is not what you want in your college admissions essay.

college application essay

5. Professional writers: Anyone who writes for a living—newspaper reporters, book authors or Internet content writers–could be a big help on an essay. They understand the writing process, and because they write all the time, they should have a strong ear for a good story.

Ideally, I would look for someone who writes regularly in the genre of telling stories for a specific audience or purpose–such as memoirs, or feature stories (especially personal profiles) for newspapers or magazines, advertising/marketing or blogs.

At the same time, professional writers also could be a disaster. There’s more to writing a great college application essay than being able to write well in other genres. Those who work with students on their essays need to understand what goes into an effective college admissions essays, as well as understand the college admissions process. Also, those who do can’t always teach. A lot has to do with the role and relationship the writing teacher plays with the student. Wise parents who write professionally often are the first to know they need someone else to work with their child and essay.

6. College essay writing “experts”: This is getting to be a crowded industry in itself. At the bottom of the barrel, in my opinion, are those essay writing services that write essays for students. Avoid these at all cost! Then there are essay writing coaches (like myself) who work with students on all phases of the process, but do not write them for students. You can find coaches from all sorts of backgrounds—from professional writers with backgrounds in newspaper, magazine and other media writing to those who wrote books, or screenplays or freelanced articles. Some essay experts also worked in the college admissions industry as college counselors at schools and universities.

All this background can be very helpful. But the bottom line is not only can they write, but can they help you write the type of personal statement essay to optimize your chances of connecting with college admissions counselors? To vet any essay writing expert, I would check out their web site or blog, read the testimonials, and read the samples of essays written by students they worked with. Also, ask them the same set of questions for private college counselors (see below).

college application essay

You can end up paying anything from about $50 or less for someone to review your essay and give edits and feedback, to hundreds and even thousands of dollars to take you through the process of brainstorming, writing and proofing one essay. I think you can find what you need somewhere in the middle. If an essay expert can help you write an effective essay, I would say it’s worth at least several hundred dollars, given how much you have been and will be investing in your education.

DISCLAIMER: Obviously, I am in this very business, and believe my services have value. And so do many of the other professionals working in the college admissions industry. I also think there are plenty of free resources out there to help you—including all the posts on this blog. If you have an idea for your essay, and feel confident writing it, go for it. You might not need any help at all.

But if you are stuck, I think you are wise to reach out for help. There’s simply too much riding on these essays to mess them up. If nothing else, anything that gives you more confidence in your own writing skills, and helps relieve some of the pressure, is well worth the extra dough. Just make sure it will really help you. In the end, trust your own judgement with your college application essay. If you really like it, it’s probably pretty good!

Questions to ask essay experts:

  • How do they work with their student clients on essays? Do they help them personally or source the essay part out to some other “expert.” (If they tap someone else, I would ask that other expert the same questions.)
  • Do they have any background in writing. If not, how have they educated themselves about essay writing?
  • What do they think makes a good or effective essay? And ask to see samples of essays from past students that include an original draft and then the “edited” one to understand how it was improved.
  • How do they help their student clients find compelling topics? This is one of the most important steps in writing a strong essay.
  • What writing resources do they share with students?
  • How much time do they spend with students on their essays?
  • What guidance do they offer students on writing their essays? Do they offer workshops to get started? When do they get started?
  • Do they set deadlines? How do they help students re-write, edit and polish their essays?
  • Do they help with the supplemental essays?