A College App Essay Tutor Confesses

A College App Essay Coach Comes Clean

Confession #1: Even if you pay me a lot of money, this college app essay tutor confesses that I won’t write your child’s essay.

Last summer, I got a call from a successful, affluent dad. He asked me point blank to write his son’s application essays. In all my years of doing this, he was the first. I said I’d be happy to coach his son and teach him to write his own essays. Dad shook his head. Not good enough. He wanted to be sure the essays were “good.” And didn’t think his son should be bothered with the process.

 #2:  I wanted to ask Dad whether he got to be successful and affluent by having someone else do his work, but I kept quiet.

#3: Instead, I asked Dad if he knew that writing is a form of thinking.  And that there is a profound value in learning  to express our thoughts, ideas, and emotions. He agreed but he didn’t want to make things too difficult for his son. 

#4:  I told Dad one of Susan Sontag’s most famous comments: “I don’t know what I’m thinking until I sit down at my typewriter.” Writing forces us to grapple with complexity. To. Think. Things. Through. He thought it was a good comment, but his son, well, no. 

Since I’m confessing here, I’ll admit that I considered charging him a lot of money to do this. As a professional writer, it wouldn’t take long to put together a few cracking good essays. Yet as technically “good” as my work might be, it would never be the authentic, heartfelt work of a high school senior. The allure was fleeting, but I said nothing. No deal. 


#5. I’m proud of what I do. Yet there are critiques of the college app essay coach. They come from admissions officers, guidance counselors, purists (of many stripes), and those who aren’t familiar with what some of us do. Another critique involves the cost of services like mine. There are many dozens if not hundreds of people and services that do this work, at all price ranges. Keep looking! If you’re interested, I have a sliding scale for low-income families willing to share some information with me.

Colleges say it’s fine for students to get help with college app essays from parents, teachers, and family friends. Yet not everyone has such people. Students whose parents aren’t proficient in English often call me. Kids who go to schools with overworked, overwhelmed teachers too. And those family friends are a luxury in many  lives.

#6: Parents sometimes hire me to act a buffer between themselves and their kids. With tensions already high around college applications, parents don’t want another flashpoint in their relationships.

A coach can exist outside the family to impose structure and discipline around getting the essays done. Parents have said to me: “Our relationship is frayed enough. This would be impossible.” Or — a brighter narrative: “My son and I have a great relationship. I don’t want to ruin it.”

#7: I sometimes get inquiries like this from a parent: “My son’s English teacher said his Common Application essay is fine. I know it’s not, but I don’t know what’s wrong with it or how to help him fix it.”

#8. There’s little disagreement that a good college app essay tutor can make a difference. A good essay advisor can help students brainstorm ideas, find their voices, organize their thoughts, and figure out how to present their ideas, ambitions, and talents clearly and persuasively.

Good writing is easier to read than bad writing. Ideas that are well thought out and expressed are more engaging than ideas that are disorganized and muddled. If a college is choosing between two students who are roughly equivalent in their records, who are they more likely to choose? The good writer — or the other?

In fact, on this episode of This American Life, the admissions officer says that only one in every 20 application essays is any good. A fair number of my clients are weak writers when they start. I put them through paces. Make them rewrite many times. Force them to think. Sometimes realize that I’m the first person who has asked this of them. And I suggest things to read, and have occasionally give them a copy of Sin and Syntax, a grammar and usage book I love. It’s a delight to read and a huge help in writing.

Speaking of good writing, the vast majority of students I work with have never had any writing instruction beyond what happens in a group. Writing is like a sport or a musical instrument or learning to drive. It takes time. Not everyone is going to be a world-class athlete or musician, but everyone can learn to write better.

I’ve worked with top student writers at public and private schools who write for their school newspaper and literary magazine. They write great movie reviews, but they’re stumped when it comes to what makes a good college application essay. Nothing they’ve ever written has prepared them for this genre — or for the dozens of supplementary essay. Teachers and guidance counselors often help, but if you’re writing dozens of essays, it’s a big ask.

Good writing is a skill, and like all skills, you will improve the more you do and the more aware you are of what you’re doing. Some students say that I’ve taught them how to think. Read some of their responses here.

My website is packed with college application resources of all kinds. Please take a stroll around. You might be interested in “The College Admissions Essay Prompts Are Your Friends,” “A Great Common App Essay — Can You Write One?” and why I love the prompts right here.

If you’re interested, I can help with college selection

To find out more about how I might help with your application essay, Please click here. To learn more about my values as a college admissions essay coach, please click here.  For information about merit aid in college applications, please read this.

Please drop me an email or call (East Coast timezone) for more information on how I might help you or your college applicant.  1-855-99-ESSAY  Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com