College Essay Coach

“The college essay is the single place a student can come alive, do or say  what they think is most important, and add depth to the application.”
– Gavin Bradley, former Columbia University admissions officer

Anyone with a child in high school knows that it has never been more competitive to get into selective colleges.        Writing a good college essay won’t admit an unqualified student to a top school. But it can make the difference between a “maybe” and a “yes.” According to James Onwuachi, a college counselor at Westminster Schools in Atlanta and former Associate Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt University, the more selective the college, the more critical the college essay becomes in the decision-making process of admission committees.

As a college essay coach, I work with students to first educate them on what admissions officers are looking for and then assisting them in writing their best possible essay. Or if they have already written a draft of an essay, I will review it, proofread it and make suggestions for changes if needed. Submitting an excellent college essay has never been more critical to differentiate one top student from another. Unfortunately, the importance of the essay is often overlooked and misunderstood.

What it’s like to work with a college essay coach

 ”My daughter’s experience working with Jan was terrific! At the first meeting, Jan helped my daughter come up with a new twist on a somewhat tired essay prompt. From there my daughter was able to get motivated to get her essay written in order to be prepared for the next meeting with Jan. (I can’t say enough about a deadline set by someone else other than Mom or Dad.) In a matter of days, my daughter and Jan had their second meeting, luckily only a small amount of polishing was needed, and the essay was complete and ready for the common application!”
– Allyson G.

Students I have worked with have been admitted to Duke, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Kenyon, Hamilton, Dickinson, Denison, University of Virginia, University of Texas, Georgia Tech (President’s Scholar), Tulane and Georgia (Honors) — to name a few.

As a college essay coach, I work with students to first educate them on what admissions officers are looking for and then assisting them in writing their best possible essay. Or if they have already written a draft of an essay, I will review it, proofread it and make suggestions for changes if needed.

Submitting an excellent college essay has never been more critical to differentiate one top student from another. Unfortunately, the importance of the essay is often overlooked and misunderstood.

For more information, please visit www.collegeessaycoach.net or call me at 404.312.9382.

For Students

Okay, so writing your college essay is not at the top of your list. As you approach your senior year there are so many other things you’d rather do and it’s easy to shove those college applications aside.

But they do have to get done. And writing your college essays really doesn’t have to be a painful process. I can help take the anxiety out of it and work with you until you have an essay you are proud of.

If you and your parents decide to work with me, I will meet with you in person if possible. If that’s not possible we can chat by video.

During our initial meeting I’ll ask a few questions about your interests, background and schools you are thinking about. We’ll brainstorm topics and also discuss what admissions staff are looking for in an essay and topics it is best to avoid.

By the end of the first session, you should have a good idea of topics you want to explore as well as a schedule for completing the first draft of your essay. After you finish a draft, you’ll send it to me and I’ll do a first edit and offer suggestions. We’ll keep going until you have an essay you are happy with.

Generally I prefer to keep the process between you and me as much as possible until we get to the final draft phase. If your parents wish, I will include them on all of our email correspondence but so far 100% of the parents have stayed out of the process.

Fees

 I can work with students in a variety of ways. I prefer to meet with them at the beginning of the essay-writing process so I can work with them on selecting the best topics for them and explain in person what admissions staff are looking for in an essay and how best to present themselves. We will meet a second time when the student has the initial draft. If necessary, this process can also be handled on the phone.

Some students may have already written their essays and just need a final review. I am happy to offer this service as well, which can be handled all online.

Hourly Fee: $75 an hour

Frequently asked questions about working with a college essay coach.

Is it wrong or kind of cheating to work with a coach on an essay?

No. Admissions officers say that there is nothing wrong with students receiving some outside help with their essays, such as suggestions on what to write about and emphasize. Of course you can find services online that offer essays already written. This is not that type of service, which is highly unethical.

Think of it like working with any type of sports coach or an SAT tutor. I assist a student and point him or her in the right direction, but the work is entirely up to them. The student will write every word of the essay and it will be in their voice.

I guarantee your essay will not receive the “DDI” distinction some admissions officers use. That stands for “Daddy Did It.” These people have read tens of thousands of essays and they can spot if the work is not done by the student.

Why can’t the parents just handle the essay process?

Parents are welcome to try. I know in my situation I decided that helping my kids with the college essay was like teaching my children to drive – it was just better for the sake of our relationship (and sanity) for all of us for someone else to do it. Let’s face it – parental/child relationships can go through a lot of strain during senior year and the college application process can add a whole other layer of anxiety. Why not reduce that stress any way you can?

I have done a lot of research into what admissions counselors are looking for, what topics students should avoid and the number one thing students need to do to write a great essay. In addition I bring more than 20 years of editorial experience to the process so I know how to get the best work out of a writer. Think of it like you would if you hire a tennis instructor. If you play tennis at all you can probably teach your child to serve. But perhaps with a bit of professional instruction, your child can serve an ace!

Does anyone really read these essays anyway?

Absolutely, and in most cases, more than one admissions officer will spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour on your student’s application. Parke Muth, an admissions officer at University of Virginia compares most of the essays they read to fast food. “Ninety percent of the applications I read contain what I call McEssays – usually five-paragraph essays that consist primarily of abstractions and unsupported generalization. They are technically correct in that they are organized and have the correct sentence structure and spelling, but they are boring. Sort of like a Big Mac.”

How do we get started?

If your student has not started writing the essays or selected a topic, we can arrange to meet for an hour to begin the process. During that meeting I talk with your student about their interests, discuss what admissions officers are looking for, discuss writing styles and review possible topics from the common app. We also review and analyze two essays that were successful for admission at top schools.

If your student already has a draft of an essay, he or she can email it to me and I will review and comment on the essay.

I prefer to keep the process primarily between me and the student. If you wish, I can copy you on any correspondence I have with the student, but I find that it works best if the parents are involved in the latter stages, when we have a final draft.

Who needs an essay coach? Who doesn’t need one?

Anyone who is applying to a selective college can benefit from an essay coach, even if it is only for a review of a final draft. According to James Onwuachi, a college counselor at Westminster and former Associate Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt University, the more selective the college, the more critical the college essay becomes in the decision-making process of admission committees. Schools vary: some may require up to three essays, some only ask for the common app and some don’t require any.

What was your experience like with your own children?

I had it pretty easy when my daughter went through the college essay process. (Not the whole college application process, not so much fun there. There were tears, rejections and freak-outs along the way. But it all turned out quite well.) Anyway she wrote her essays, I looked them over for her and all was well.

But fast forward three years, and life was not so rosy. My son, whose whole goal in life had been to get into the University of Virginia, had ignored all my efforts to get him to write his college essays over the summer before his senior year. No big surprise there. But I figured he still had time because Virginia no longer had the early decision option.

Then he went to visit Vanderbilt that fall, loved it and promptly decided to apply early decision. Which meant he had about three weeks to have everything completed. Including his essay. He and I had talked about topics and he felt good about the one he had chosen. I knew he was a good writer so I wasn’t too concerned.

My husband and I were out of town for the weekend when he emailed me his first draft. I read it in the car on the way home. It was so not right. All the way back from St. Simon’s, along that endless stretch of I-16, I dreaded the conversation we would have to have. We have a great relationship, but I knew he would be defensive about any suggestions I offered.

After a tense 15-minute conversation in the kitchen, during which I offered my suggestions that were not too well taken, I was about to give up. I finally asked my husband what he thought. “I’m not getting into this!” he wisely said and bolted to the safety of the family room.

My more-than-irritated son went back in his room and in less than half an hour had revised his essay and improved it immensely. He admitted that the first time he had tried too hard. The second time around he relaxed, and his essay was much better.

What did you learn from this experience?

I learned quite a bit from this experience, and those lessons have led me to start this business.

  1. Just because your child is a good writer does not mean he can write a good college essay.

Although this may be the most important thing your student writes in high school, it is an entirely different type of writing. It’s not an academic paper and it is definitely not a status update on Facebook.

  1. There are so many misconceptions about what the college essay should and should not be, and what admissions officers are looking for.

The June before my son was a junior in high school we were in Charlottesville for my husband’s college reunion. I attended a session on getting your child admitted to University of Virginia and was surprised by what the admissions people said about the college essay. I learned a great deal that day about the purpose of the essay, what admissions people are looking for and the two topics they really hope to never see again.

  1. Parents are not the best people to help in the process.

A lot of us don’t know what admissions officers are looking for either. And any interference on our part has the potential to backfire.There is a lot of tension in the whole college application process. Why not step back from this portion and let someone else help out? 

Isn’t all this information available online anyway?

There is a lot of information about writing a college essay online. There is also a lot of information on how to swing a golf club or tennis racket. It can make a big difference if someone is helping you one-on-one and taking a personal interest in you. I’ve also found that too much information can be overwhelming. I can help educate a student on exactly what he or she needs to know.