Writing a great college application essay

College application essays stress out students and parents alike. Students are stressed because they're not sure what to write about. Parents are stressed because they believe the personal essay can make or break college acceptance for their child. This leads to helpful adults helping, and it just isn't much help. What do college admissions personnel have to say about the essay? They say, let the kids do it themselves-- please!

This article from the New York Times explains what readers see (and what they think) when they read essays. Since they read hundreds of personal essays every year, they know right away who wrote an essay. As a private tutor who helps edit college application essays, so can I. It's obvious when a helpful adult stepped in to change an idea, change the focus, or change the wording. Grown-ups, step back.

Editing an essay should involve suggestions. Suggest where to move a sentence, or a paragraph, for greater emotional effect. Suggest where details could add to the point, and suggest where too many words are making the essay drag. Those are fine editing tools, and these recommendations actually help students learn how to express themselves better. Other than that, and maybe a spelling and grammar check, let the kids tell their own stories, in their own words.