If I could give one piece of advice to high school students (or anyone, really), I would tell them to not waste any time waiting for anything. Waiting for “life to begin.” Waiting for the world to fall into place.
It sounds cliché, probably, and it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you’re “stuck” in the town that you live in, “stuck” at the school you go to, “stuck” in a state where you cannot actually accomplish much of anything.
I thought this, both as a freshman and a sophomore. I thought that my town didn’t offer me much of anything. I just couldn’t wait to get away. And, in the midst of that, I didn’t see the great memories being made-the memories that make me who I am-until later. The truth is I love my school and my town.
Does that mean that I’m not ready to move away? Not exactly. But, it does mean that I appreciate what I’ve learned throughout high school, even though it didn’t always come in the form of textbook-style learning.
I have another piece of advice: don’t rely on your textbooks for everything. You will learn so much from the classes where you explore your interests and yourself; the classes where you feel challenged, unable to locate the answers in your book or on the internet.
I can honestly say that some of the classes I learned the most from were Creative Writing and Digital Media, a broadcast journalism course where I helped produce the daily announcements. These classes stressed me out, but they also provided me with much independence and taught me so much about the world and myself.
Still, a realization hit me when I came back to school after the summer before my junior year. Teachers asked us to share about our summers, and I realized I did nothing but fantasize about the future. I planned everything down to which college I would go to and which classes I would take and which internships I would have. None of that has stayed the same.
I still don’t consider that time completely wasted, because I learned to not wait for my dreams to come true. But still, sometimes I can’t help but think of all the things I could’ve been doing. After that, I tried to get involved. I took action. I was so busy and so happy. I’d ride home from school just thinking “this is perfect. Everything’s perfect.”
In high school, I met so many interesting people. I filled my journals with so many funny and sad and beautiful and broken stories.
In high school, I rode the bus, even during my senior year. I hated it at times, but I also loved it. I hear country music now and feel nostalgic about it.
In high school, I humiliated myself at Zumba classes and learned so much from the kids I tutored and explored various forms of literature and began to understand the world despite the size of my isolated small town.
In high school, I discovered who I am and what I want. I’m still discovering, and that’s okay. Though high school presents you with many lessons, you do not by any means have to find all the answers.
In high school, I stopped waiting. I started living. I started learning. I didn’t wait to learn and discover and explore and accomplish my goals. And, though many things will change this year, I believe that will remain constant.
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Writing your college essay may seem daunting, but it is important to remember that you are not alone in the process. There are many people who are likely willing to help you, and sometimes all you need to do to is ask for it.
So whom should you approach for help with your essay? There is no set rule on who can and cannot provide advice and assistance—as long as you are the one doing the actual writing, of course. (And it’s important to remember that if you don’t write your own essay, the consequences can be severe.) Read on for a list of the type of people who might be able to help out, as well as the pros and cons of each.
Your English Teachers
Your English teachers are natural choices not only because they are experts on the fundamentals of writing and grammar, but also because they are familiar with your writing in particular. English teachers can proofread your essay—catching grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, typos, and awkward phrasing—as well as edit it for structure and content.
Keep in mind that many of your classmates may be asking your teachers for help, too, so don’t be offended if the teacher you ask seems too overwhelmed or is unable to help you within the time frame you need. If everyone seems to be asking your twelfth-grade English teacher, consider asking someone who taught you English in an earlier grade, since he or she is probably getting fewer requests. Or, think about asking someone who taught you a different subject, such as social studies or history. Writing is a skill required in a myriad of subjects, so it is probable that there are other teachers who are familiar with your writing and willing to provide feedback on your essay.
However, you should watch out for English teachers that edit your college essay to be too “academic” in nature. Remember that your college essay should be tonally and structurally different from most papers you may have written for class, so your teacher may be editing it in accordance with his or her English class guidelines, rather than based on what a college admissions committee might want to see.
Also understand that your teachers are probably not experts on the application process, since their job is to teach English, not spend all their time thinking about admissions. This makes them particularly susceptible to misunderstanding individual schools’ preferences. Therefore, you may not want to make all the edits your teacher offers, especially when it comes to content. English teachers ultimately may be best suited for general proofreading or specific grammar or diction related questions.
Peers and Classmates
Your peers or classmates may be able to help you gauge whether or not your essay is a good reflection of you and your voice, but, like you, they have never been through the process themselves, so they don’t really know what admissions committees want to see in your essay.
While classmates can help ensure that your essay is an accurate reflection of your personality, they don’t know the specifics of the admission process, since, like you, they are going through it for the first time. Additionally, as with your English teachers, they may not know what the best style for a college essay is versus that of other types of papers and assignments, so be sure to contextualize their advice. While it may not be smart to follow their guidance in all aspects of content, structure, and tone, these figures can help you gauge how well your essay conveys who you are to a reader–and ensuring your essay is a true reflection of your personality is certainly important.
Your Guidance Counselor
If your school has a good guidance department and has been helpful with other aspects of the process, your guidance counselor may be able to provide valuable advice for your essay. Since your guidance counselor is there to help you with the process anyway, asking him or her to take a look at your essay could be a good idea. He or she can might be able to provide a clear idea of what colleges want to see in your essay, as well as help you interpret the prompt if you are struggling with ideas. If he or she knows the particular colleges to which you are applying well, your guidance counselor might be able to provide input as to what specific admission committees want to see in an essay—but it is important to understand that your counselor may not know the ins and outs of the schools to which you applying, to be aware of his or her limitations as an essay reader if that is the case.
It is also very possible that your school doesn’t have a strong guidance department, so if that is the case, your counselor may not be the best choice to help you with your essay. He or she may not always be able to provide the most accurate advice regarding specific schools, especially schools to which students at your school do not typically apply. Additionally, your guidance counselor may be working with many students, so he or she may be unable to provide the kind of attention your essay needs.
If you have older siblings or other family members who have been through the college process within the past few years, they might also be a good resource for questions and other support, particularly if they applied to the same or similar colleges to the ones on your list. Since they went through the process recently, they understand what you’re going through, and may be able to offer helpful advice or tips beyond what a guidance counselor or teacher can provide. However, if they didn’t apply to the schools on your list, their knowledge of specific prompts and essays may be somewhat limited. Likewise, they might not be aware of how the application process has changed since they went through it. If the schools you are applying to are completely different than the schools your sibling(s) did, you may want to forgo their advice – each school is looking for something different, and advice that works for one may actually work against you for another.
Keep in mind that your parents may not be the best resource. If they applied to college, it was probably a while ago, so they may not know what the process is like now. Additionally, they are among the least objective of the resources you have available. That said, if you want to have your parents take a look at your essay, of course you should feel free to do so; just be sure to keep their advice in context.
College X Alumni/Alumnae and Current Students
Graduates of and current students at a particular college on your list could be one of your best resources, since they can provide the most specialized help for the school in question. These people know the culture of the college and what the admissions committee is looking for in a candidate. Current students may have even responded to the same prompt, and can provide advice unique to that specific essay.
If you know an alum of or current student at a college to which you are applying, particularly if it is one of your first-choice schools, it may be a good idea to reach out and ask him or her to read your essay and offer any school-specific advice. If you don’t know anyone affiliated with the college, consider the various networks you have at your disposal. Perhaps an alum of your high school or current teacher attended that college and could offer advice. Even if you don’t know these people personally, a shared connection might make them more willing to offer support. You could also check with your guidance counselor to see if he or she might be able to connect you with alumni from a specific college.
And, of course, don’t forget us! CollegeVine’s Essay Editing Program can give you a comprehensive review of your essay, or you can sign up for our full program to receive one-on-one support from one of our essay specialists. You will receive individual assistance from member of a curated sample of current students and alumni/ae from top-tier colleges who have been trained by our essay curriculum that is informed by past clients. Therefore, you will have an editor who not only knows the colleges to which your applying, but also knows the admission process backwards and forwards.
Feel free to ask multiple people to read your essay – it’s smart to have diverse opinions on your work. Additionally, having a combination of people—such as a teacher and a relative—will help you get multiple perspectives. While one person may catch grammar mistakes, another may be able to determine if the essay is a good reflection of your personality, and another still could tell you if the essay makes you seem like a good match for the college in question.
Don’t ever be tempted to borrow topics or feel like you have to make particular edits because they told you to do so. Your essay is a place to showcase your personality and individuality, so you should never try to change or misrepresent yourself in order to fit in better with a particular college.
It is also important to keep the drawbacks of asking teachers, family, and peers in mind. If you do choose to ask them for help, carefully go over their edits to ensure that they genuinely improve your essay and don’t detract from the themes and messages in it.
Thanking Your Readers
As with anybody who assists you with the college application process—from recommenders to college interviewers to friends providing support—you should be sure to thank the people you ask to read your essay. Since reading your essay takes time and really is a personal favor, writing a thank you note is a nice touch as well.
If you’re looking for tips on mastering the essays for the particular colleges to which you are applying, check out our school-by-school essay breakdowns.
Looking for more application help? Fill out our free consultation form today and one of our personal admissions specialists will reach out to you.
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Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.