Too Much Help: A Message to Parents

A friend recently asked me, “Isn’t there a fine line between editing your kid’s essay and writing it for her?” She wanted to know why it matters if she helps outline her daughter’s application essay if she thinks that might give her daughter an edge.

It’s a common dilemma, especially for parents who would do anything to help their children get into the schools of their dreams. We all want our children to succeed; college is critically important. But the truth is, you should not heavily edit your child’s essay, and you most definitely should not write it yourself.

So how can parents be helpful without crossing the line?

  • Offer encouragement. In this case, you are more cheerleader than coach. No one knows your child better than you. Encourage her to express herself in her own voice, in her own words. Yes, she really can do this. And she can do it well.
  • Be realistic. An essay should be well-written, but it should sound like it was composed by a high school student.  Admissions officers can tell the difference between a heartfelt, well-crafted essay and a submission that is so highly-polished it sounds flat.
  • Get a head start. For many students, the essay is the hardest part of the college application process. The fall of senior year is a stressful, exciting time, not necessarily the best environment for students to sit quietly and write about themselves. Start in the summer, as soon as the essay prompts become available.
  • Read, but don’t criticize. Read drafts and offer your opinion, but don’t go too far. Ask clarifying questions. Engage in a conversation with your child to figure out what he is trying to say about himself. Save the editor’s pencil for misspelled words and grammatical errors.

No matter what the prompt, the essay is not about the job, the vacation, the illness, the book or the influential person; it is about the student – what he or she learned, gained or realized as a result of the experience. As a parent, you can help the most by keeping your child focused on the essay’s purpose.

It can be hard to write about oneself, especially when it really matters. We get that. That’s why we teach our students how to write their essays, using a straightforward, 10-step process. We help kids find their voices. They leave our workshops feeling empowered, confident in their own abilities, certain of their words.