There is a fine line between asking someone you trust to review your essay and getting too much help.
When your mom, dad, teacher, friend or tutor starts giving you words to use or edits too much, your voice disappears. The result is a sanitized essay that does not sound like a thoughtful 17-year-old.
The question of how much help is too much is 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, but parents should not heavily edit your application essays, and they most definitely should not write them for you.
How can parents be helpful without crossing the line?
Offer encouragement. In this case, a parent is more cheerleader than coach. No one knows you better than your mom or dad. They should encourage you to express yourself in your own voice, in your own words. You can really do this; you can do this well.
Be realistic. An essay should be well-written, but it should also 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 or like someone else.
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, or sooner, as soon as the essay prompts become available. Some schools have begun posting their essay questions during the spring.
Read, but don't criticize. Ask your parents to read drafts and opinions, but suggest they don't go too far. They should ask clarifying questions and engage you in a conversation to figure out what your message is. What are you trying to say about yourself? What do you want colleges to know about you from the story you are writing? Ask them to 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 you, the student – what you learned, gained or realized as a result of the experience. Parents can help the most by keeping you focused on the essay's purpose.
It can be hard to write about yourself, especially when it really matters. We get that. But it is important you write it yourself.
Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop, which recently launched Wow Online – College Essay, the first self-guided online tutorial for college application essay writing. It is based on our straightforward, 10-step process we've been teaching in the classroom for many years. We can help you find your voice – on your own schedule when it's right for you.