Parents and College Application Essays: How to Help, Not Hinder

Text "This is my story" on old type writer representing how parents can help on college application essays(This is a guest post by College Essay expert Randy Levin.)
I am well aware that what I suggest below will sound counter-intuitive to most parents. All I can say is that I’ve helped close to 1000 students get into their top choice schools with this exact philosophy.

Not this philosophy

As a parent, your teen’s accomplishments reinforce your belief that she is brilliant and exceptionally talented. The qualities you see in her suggest to you that greatness awaits her; no other teenager is as wonderful (Except maybe her siblings).

Because of this mindset, parents can lose all objectivity with expectations of a “perfect” essay that encapsulates everything you know, think and feel about your teen. This can be a huge problem; inadvertently steering your teen in the wrong direction.

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This philosophy

If you want to help your teen, the first thing you must keep in mind is this quote from Amy Gutman, the President of UPenn, “Our admissions officers are looking for something that is Authentic and Imperfect.”

Colleges are looking for real teens…blemishes and all. This applies to the Ivy League, top tier schools, competitive schools and local schools. Once you grasp this idea, it means that you aren’t looking to help your teen “prove” to a college how amazing he is.

Don’t suggest content about…

  • Awards, achievements and distinctions. They are relatively commonplace among the other 30,000 students applying to the same college.
  • Grampa’s experience in a Concentration Camp and how that influenced her desire to help people. These essays are about her… simply as a teen….authentic and imperfect
  • Stories that will reinforce clichés like “Hard working,” “determined,” “curious,” “driven.”
  • A memory from when she was seven years old.

I never worked with Dolphins that have cancer.

If your teen is having trouble thinking of a topic, more than likely he has fallen into the same trap of looking for something huge and dramatic.

Do Suggest…

  • Day to day life experience that demonstrates her character, sense of humor, etc.
  • How does she interact with the world?
  • What is your teen passionate about? (Other than math or robotics).
  • What kind of sibling, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, niece, friend, etc. is she.

Do you recognize your teen?

No one essay will encompass everything about your teen. The real question is, if you read her essay without knowing the author, would you recognize her? If the answer is YES and the contact isn’t negative or shows her in a bad light, than it’s a good essay…authentic and imperfect is the goal.

Aside from my one-on-one essay consulting, I offer a video course. This is a brief promotion about the course

Please explore for details about my services and who I am.  There are also links to other great services my colleagues offer…. Everything from financial aid and scholarships to SAT/ACT tutors.

Please feel free to call or email me if you have any questions.


Randy Levin
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About Randy Levin

Randy Levin ( holds a MA in English and a MFA in Creative Writing. He is a former high school English teacher who worked in highly competitive Long Island districts. Randy is a published writer, editor, speech writer and public speaking coach. Because of his expertise and reputation, he is the only college essay expert asked to speak at the National College Fair- Nassau Coliseum in 2013

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