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Your Child's Admission Essay: How Much Help Is Too Much Help?

Zaragoza Guerra

Written by Zaragoza Guerraon June 22nd, 2012

Prior to joining College Coach, I spent part of my career as director of admissions for the Boston Conservatory, where I oversaw overall recruitment and auditions for students interested in music, theater, and dance. I spent most of my admissions career, however, as an admissions officer for two institutes of technology. As an associate director of admissions at MIT, I directed overall recruitment and yield activities as well as international, transfer, and special student admissions. I also served as an assistant director of admissions for Caltech, where I handled specialized student recruitment and reviewed domestic and international student files.
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College applications can be fraught with stress for both parents and students.  So how do parents avoid turning “help” with admission essays into “too much help”?  To guide us through this parental conundrum, we’ve turned to Jacob Palmer, student blogger and junior at American University, for some parent / student advice.  Jake relates to us his essay writing experiences and the impact his mother’s help had on the process. How would you describe your relationship with your mom when it came to writing your essays? I’d say it was strained, but in a good way.  Students are encouraged to be creative and take risks with their application essays, and conflict inevitably rises from that risk taking.  And while creative essays can work, oftentimes a student requires some guidance to make sure their essay doesn’t sacrifice message for originality.  I used my mom as a resource to bounce off ideas.  Many of those ideas she rejected would have, in retrospect, led to terrible essays.  So I think some second-guessing parental supervision is definitely helpful. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being completely hands off and 5 being over the top involved, how engaged were your parents in the essay writing process? I’d say my parents were a four.  I have the unusual distinction, however, of having a professor of journalism and ex-Boston Globe editor for a mom, so I don’t think my circumstances are necessarily the norm.  My mother insisted on going over every essay, although she never made changes without consulting me first. Do you feel your essays reflected your writing style, your aspirations, your goals? In the end, I think my essays should have been more me.  I struggled to follow the advice of my guidance counselor and my mother, and tried to arrive at topics that would appeal to colleges.  And while appealing to colleges is obviously the end goal, I think my writing would have been better served had I reflected more about myself, rather than reflecting on what I thought colleges should see in myself. Did the relationship with your parents ever fray when it came to getting your essays done? I frequently argued with my mother during the process.  At times I felt like she was curbing some of my more creative ideas.  Now, however, I’m glad for some of her interventions.  That being said, I do now wish I had more freedom to write about what I wanted to write about, instead of what my mother thought colleges wanted to hear. Any advice you want to give to parents about the essay writing process?  How should they “help” their children? In terms of doing it over again, I wish I had more freedom to write and edit on my own.  While I think parental oversight is both beneficial and necessary, I believe parents should limit themselves to editing at the end, not suggesting ideas for topics or trying to mold their child’s style.   Essay-Pitfalls-CTA


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