In a college admissions-focused Facebook group I’m in, a parent recently asked if it’s necessary to hire a college essay reviewer to go over all your admission essays before you submit them.
As you can imagine, the answers were varied — and often very emphatic.
So let’s talk about that. Is it necessary? Will it give you an edge? The answer, of course, is: Yes. No. Maybe. It depends.
Now that we’ve got all of that cleared up, let’s dive in, explore a few scenarios, and see if and when you should hire outside help for your college admissions personal statement or supplemental essays.
A college admissions essay coach saying “Don’t hire me. You can do it on your own”? Don’t worry. You haven’t found yourself in some alternate universe where up is down and left is right.
Obviously, we all want you to be accepted to colleges on your own merit — because the colleges love who you are, what you’ve done, and what you stand for — not because you had a lot of outside help along the way on your essay (or anywhere else in your application, for that matter). After all, you’ve got to succeed at college and beyond on your own. So overall, you should get into college on your own (even if you get essay or test prep help, it’s up to you to do the work). We hope your years of high school have taught you how to prep for tests and outline and draft essays — and how to make a plan for getting it all done in a timely fashion. Is it wrong to get extra help if you want/need/can afford it? No. Is it necessary to succeed? Also no.
So why else might you choose not to have anyone review your work?
The best-case scenario when you hire someone to read your essay would be that you find someone who really is helpful and gives great advice (which we’ll talk about later) and makes your awesome essay awesome-r. But the worst-case? Well-intentioned essay reviewers could make enough edits and suggestions and revisions that your final essay no longer reflects who you are, what you value, and what you’ve learned from the last 18 (but especially the last four) years on this earth. After all the red ink settles, you no longer sound like you. And it’s easy to go with the flow and accept their changes. After all, they’re the adult, so they must know what they’re doing, right? Not always, unfortunately. And trust me, admission officers can tell the difference between the voice of a teen writer and an adult writer.
That’s definitely a risk you don’t want to take.
If you’re a confident writer who has researched what makes a great admissions essay (and not just a great essay) and who feels great about your topic and final draft, then it’s perfectly OK to run with what you have without hiring outside help. Plenty of students have gotten into their top-choice schools without having another soul read their essays. (I’ve even had students who started working with me and then decided to do it on their own. And they’ve done a spectacular job.)
The important thing to consider if you’re doing this yourself? Most essays take several drafts to perfect (not that any essay is ever perfect, but they should be evolving and improving over time) and aren’t usually done well in one sitting the weekend before they’re due. So if you’re going to fly solo, just make sure you have plenty of time to dedicate to it before the submission deadline.
Even better: Get started early enough that you can spend some time away from your essay. After you’ve read it over and over and over again, you risk missing the obvious — content issues, typos, structural flaws. So take a few days away from your essay. Don’t look at it. Don’t think about it. After some time away, go back and read it. Use an app like Grammarly to catch what you missed. (I use the premium version thanks to all the writing and editing I do, but the free one can be just as helpful.) Sometimes reading it with fresh eyes can make all the difference and help you take your essay from good to great.
Some students are lucky enough to have school college and career counselors who are willing (and able) to review their essays. Others have access to English teachers who can read essays and give advice. Still other students have the opportunity to brainstorm, develop, write, and edit their essays as part of an English assignment and can benefit from both peer reviews and feedback from their teachers. You might even have free resources in your community that help you work through brainstorming and writing. If so, congratulations!
I’ll admit, when I wrote my admissions essay decades ago, I had no idea how I was supposed to be writing it — or even what the point of the essay was. Now I know better, and had I been applying to more than two right-fit colleges back in the day, it might’ve been a good idea for someone besides my mom (love you, mom) to read my essay.
By this time, you’ve likely read your essay over and over, so it’s hard to see it objectively. Having a neutral outside party reading your essay — someone who doesn’t know you but who wants to get to know you through your essay — can be helpful. Not only can they spot the mistakes that you’ve missed and any parts that are vague or unclear, but they can tell you what they learn about you from your essay. What are your values? The lessons learned? That which makes you unique? And if that’s not what you intended to share in your essay, they can advise you on how to better show what you want to show.
You can find teachers, writers, and essay coaches and advisors at every price point who are willing to offer a review of or assistance with your essay.
But, of course, not all reviewers are created equal.
If you do hire (or even just ask a trusted friend or family member) a college essay reviewer to get their feedback on your essay, don’t hesitate to be very clear on the kind of feedback you’re expecting from them. Want them to read it only for grammatical errors? Tell them. Want them to see if they can identify how you’ve grown and what lessons you’ve learned from a challenge? Be specific. Want all the feedback? Let them know.
Just keep this in mind: Opinions are like … ummmm …. noses. Everybody’s got one. If you ask too many people for their opinion on your essay, you risk being overwhelmed with suggestions — and sometimes contradictory suggestions at that. Being specific about the kind of feedback you want helps minimize a tidal wave of “help” that can leave you feeling frustrated and second-guessing yourself.
Can deciding to hire a college essay reviewer be yet another expenditure in a seemingly endless college admission money pit? Yes, potentially. But don’t look at it as a throwaway investment. If you have the right partner, not only can your advisor potentially help you gain admission and earn merit dollars, but they can also show you how to repurpose your essays for scholarships and write amazing, effective essays that can cover a variety of prompts. And, of course, they can help you stand out in a field of your peers — which can be even more important in today’s test-optional and test-blind application environment.
If cost is a barrier, don’t hesitate to ask if the essay specialist can work with your budget or if they have a referral for someone who can.
If you do decide to hire a college essay reviewer, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting for your money. Here are my top tips that can help you ensure you get a great review that levels up your essay while still keeping it your essay.
How’s that for a decisive answer?
If you’ve already paid for SAT or ACT prep services or have worked with a college advisor, you may feel comfortable with paying a professional to review your college admissions essay — especially if you’re applying to competitive schools, looking for merit money, or applying to honors programs.
But there’s no reason you can’t confidently do your essay on your own, too. If you’re a solid writer with great resources at your high school or at home, you might not need any help at all with an essay review. Plus, there are a wealth of free resources online — some of my favorites are the College Essay Guy, College Vine, and College Essay Advisors — that can get you up and running and give you the information you need to craft a great essay.
And if you need some help along the way? I’m here to answer your questions and guide you through the process.
Want to learn more? Reach out, and we’ll schedule a time to talk. I’m happy to give you my objective advice on how to proceed and give you the resources you need to help ensure you’re successful — whether you go it alone or with a team.