This guest post is by Risa Lewak is the author of, “Don’t Stalk the Admissions Officer” by Ten Speed Press. Please visit Risa at:

The college essay is probably one of the most stressful aspects of the entire application. When it comes to the essay, here are a few basic rules:

Don’t write your child’s essay

Don’t read or edit your child’s essay until it’s completely finished

Make sure your child doesn’t entitle the essay, “I’m Going to College so I No Longer Have to See My Parents on a Daily Basis”

Don’t choose the essay topic for your child

Don’t say, “this crap needs to be re-written” no matter how tempting

An admissions officer from an Ivy League school told me that, “we’ve seen so many essays where it’s evident that a parent made multiple revisions and the student didn’t seem very focused.” It’s vital that you keep your input to a minimum and not tamper too much with your child’s essay. Admissions officers don’t expect the essay to be a literary masterpiece so neither you nor your child should strive for perfection.

“We just want to see a little sliver of the student,” says an admissions officer from Tufts University.  The essay must convey some aspect of who your child is.  It doesn’t have to revolve around a monumental, broad topic; (no one expects your child to pontificate over the meaning of life) one of the best essays I ever read when I worked for Hunter college was about a girl who babysat for her younger sister until her mother got home from work. It was a simple essay that revealed who the applicant was and how much she valued spending time with her sister. It’s better to stick with “smaller” topics than overreach in topic and writing.

While you don’t want to over-edit your child’s essay, you do want to make sure the essay is entertaining to read.  A flat essay can be deadly; admissions officers read so many that the last thing you want to do is bore them so that your child’s application edges closer to the “reject” pile.  An effective first line, something along the lines of: “I wear adult diapers” can do wonders in capturing the reader’s attention. Make sure your child hooks the reader immediately; you don’t want the admissions officer to wait to get to the good stuff.

Your child should not make the essay generic or impersonal.  “I want to go to Boston University because I like Fenway Park” is not a good reason for wanting to go to BU. Admissions officers want to see that you really want to go to their school, make sure your child does not write a generic essay that could apply to any of the 30 schools he/she may be applying to.

While the essay questions are ridiculous, don’t waste time on dwelling on how idiotic they are. The best thing you can do is ensure that your child’s essay is focused, tight, and answers the question. If the question is, “Why are you a good fit for this school?” make sure your child doesn’t talk about how much he loves his grandmother.  Being tangential doesn’t score your child any points.

If you ever become an admissions officer, you can fight to change the system and replace the standard essay questions with the following:

What is your favorite condiment?

Who has had the most destructive influence on your life? Have you ever pressed charges?

If you could have dinner with any one person—historical or current, living or fictitious, living or dead—what would you order?

Describe a risk you took that involved pinching someone’s butt.

This guest post is by Risa Lewak is the author of, “Don’t Stalk the Admissions Officer” by Ten Speed Press. Please visit Risa at:

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