college application essay

If you landed on my Essay Hell blog, there’s a strong chance you are in search of help on writing your college application essay.

Yes, that’s what I do, and I’m happy to help you.

But I was thinking of how I would advise a student or parent who is looking for someone to assist in the essay writing process (other than me).

There are many options—from private college counselors to teachers and smart friends.

Many “experts” claim to know their stuff, but it’s important to make them prove it.

I think the trick is to A. determine if your essay helper really understands what makes a good college admissions essay (a very specific type of writing), and B. has the experience and skills to help a student write or improve her or his own.

The best thing you can do as a student or parent is spend some time figuring out what you think makes a great essay.

That way you are protected from someone telling you an essay is good when it is not. If someone assures you that a less-than-stellar essay is really great, and you send it in, you will never know how that affected your chance of admission.

There’s simply no accountability with these essays. It’s up to you to do the best you can, including finding qualified assistance.

If it helps to sort it all out, here’s what I would tell a friend who is launching their college admissions quest about the various options:

1. Private College Admissions Counselors: If I were looking to hire a private counselor, and most likely pay several thousand dollars to guide me and my child through the complex admissions process, one of my main requirements would be that she or he had a handle on these essays. And that they understood how and why they matter.

I certainly wouldn’t expect (or want) the counselor to write these for their clients, but I would require them to share their specific plan for helping students on these essays.

college application essay

Here are the types of questions I would ask:

  • 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?

Most private college counselors have little or no writing background. It’s typically not part of their training. But many belong to professional organizations in the college admissions industry that help them stay current with trends and professional development.

If a private college counselor belongs to these groups (NACAC, IECA and HECA) and participates in their annual conferences, and other events, chances are they are up to snuff on the essay scene. At least way more than those who don’t.

Based on the private counselors I have worked with, I saw that those with experience developed a keen radar for an effective essay, and had learned ways to connect with students and help them find their stories.

Good counselors also can be effective sounding boards, and provide feedback, such as when an essay is not clear, focused or dull. 

PART TWO: How to Find the Best Essay Help: High school counselors, English teachers, higher ed professional, professional writers and essay writing experts…

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 essay. If you really like it, it’s probably pretty good!