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Parents' Role in Essays

Dear Parents of Seniors, 

As your children are deeply involved in the process of writing their college essays, I want to spell out what I believe the parents' role should be in this process. The essay must be the student's work and must reflect the student's voice. Parents can certainly help brainstorm a topic with their child and provide basic editing advice, but please make sure it is your child that is doing the essay writing. 

I work very closely with students to identify meaningful topics that will appeal to an admissions committee and are authentic to the student. College essays are a unique breed of writing that do not conform to the other high school assignments. We then spend many sessions together working through the topic through numerous writing and editing sessions. I expect that the writing is being done by the child. Colleges can sniff out when parents or other adults have had a heavy hand in writing an essay, thereby removing the student's voice from the piece. My role is to guide your student's writing and idea generation to develop the best essay that he or she can write, and edit and streamline the document while keeping the student's voice/message/language.  

I encourage that parents stay on the sideline and help their child when/if the child requests it. If your child seeks your guidance, please work with him or her to incorporate your input into the essay. I will not review essay drafts sent to me from the parent. Your edits must be coordinated and "OK'd" by your child and sent to me directly from the student. 

When an essay is ready to be finalized, I send every essay to an outside editor for review and careful editing. I then send the document to the student for a last review, if necessary. The final/edited version of the essay will be saved in the student's personal dropbox folder and marked "Final" in the essay title, and the student can then use it for the appropriate applications. Changes to the document will not be reviewed after this point. 

Your student and I will be spending a significant amount of time on essays over the next few weeks and months. It's an intensive process, but hopefully meaningful for the students, allowing them to know themselves better through self-reflection. 

As always, please email or call me with questions. 
Best regards, 
Julie Raynor Gross
President & Founder
Collegiate Gateway LLC

FAQs from Parents:

1. How closely should I be working with my child on the essays?  Should I suggest essay topics?  Should I read over each draft?

The most effective and successful approach is if I work directly with your child to brainstorm ideas for essays and closely edit each draft until the essay is final. At the heart of every essay is a creative vision about what that essay is meant to accomplish, such as the messages about the student, the imagery that remains in the reader's mind, the tone of the writing.  When a variety of people are involved in editing, the essay is often weakened by a conflict of messages and perspectives.  If your child would like your input on an essay, it is up to him/her to share the essay with you.  If you do provide input on an essay, the best time would be on the second draft.

2. What does it mean for you to "finalize" an essay?

I typically work with students on three drafts of each essay.  When I feel the essay is the strongest possible representation of the particular student, and satisfies my high standards for a unique, creative, articulate and personal piece of writing, I stamp it "FINAL!"  After that point, the student is certainly free to review the essay with additional people, but I have signed off on the essay and will not continue to review it.  It's time to move on to the next essay!

3. How important are grammar and word choice in the essays?

Students should adhere to proper grammatical rules and use words effectively. Certainly, the goal is to produce polished, error-free writing.  However, the most selective colleges in the country do not penalize students for occasional incorrect grammar or word choice on their college essays. Furthermore, it is extremely important that students use vocabulary that is appropriate to their age and experience. When I edit, my most important priorities are, in descending order: content that communicates unique and personal qualities, creativity, appropriate tone, effective structure, varied vocabulary and proper grammar.  This hierarchy mirrors the priorities of college admissions officers in their reading of essays.

4. What are all the aspects of the application that you review?

I believe that every component of the application must be as high-quality as possible to maximize chances of college admission.  Therefore, I review:

  • Common Application Personal Essay
  • Common Application form
  • Essays for up to eight Common App Supplements or colleges' own applications
  • College Resume 
  • Supplementary Resumes, e.g. Arts Resume or Athletic Resume, if applicable

I do not review the following essays as part of comprehensive college packages, but can arrange review on an hourly basis:

  • Merit scholarship
  • Research competitions
  • Summer programs
  • Gap year programs

5. How will you make sure my child completes his/her application responsibilities on time?

Your child will sign a contract at the first summer meeting that specifies his/her responsibilities. At the end of each meeting with me, your child and I will prepare a To Do List together, including mutually agreed-upon deadlines - and you will receive a copy.  If I do not receive your students' To Do items at least 48 hours in advance of the next meeting, we will reschedule the meeting. 

6. How often has a student of yours missed a college application deadline?

So far, never!

7. What is the most effective role that I can play in the application process?

There are various roles you can play that would be very helpful for your child:

(a) Provide emotional support: This is a very stressful stage for both children and parents. Everyone is dealing with the imminent issues of separation and transition. Everyone has his or her own hopes for particular college outcomes. Parents may feel a lack of control over their child's application process.  Students may feel anxiety over the enormity of the process and the vulnerability of being judged.  Providing your child with emotional support and showing confidence in their potential will help promote their creativity and productivity!

(b) Assist with administrative tasks:  Please upload your student's end-of-year report card, transcript and official test score reports (SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, AP scores) to your child's Dropbox folder.

(c) Arrange logistics of college visits:  If you and your child are visiting colleges during the summer or the fall, you can look up the college's schedule for Information Sessions, Tours; find out when the college is in session; confirm whether on-campus interviews are available and required; help schedule visits and interviews in a convenient way. Handling these logistics is extremely time-consuming and your child will appreciate your help!

As always, thanks for your support and for the privilege of working with your child!

Julie Raynor Gross
President & Founder
Collegiate Gateway LLC

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