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Articles / Applying to College / Is Professional College Essay Help Permissible?

June 22, 2020

Is Professional College Essay Help Permissible?

Is Professional College Essay Help Permissible?

Raw Pixel

I am a parent to a high school junior, and I'd like to know if it's legal (permissible) for a professional to help a student write her essay.


The key word here is "help," and there's a lot of gray area surrounding it. Most college admission officials acknowledge that application essays should be a student's own work, but that getting some guidance is still permissible. Yet there is a lot of disagreement about how much assistance is too much.

It's almost always considered acceptable for an applicant to share an essay with others ... parents, friends, school or private college counselors ... and to ask for general advice. "Does this essay answer the prompt?" "Are there grammar or spelling errors?" "Does it sound like me?" Some high schools even include college essay writing as part of the junior or senior English curriculum. In such cases, each student's essay is "corrected" by the teacher, much as if it were a homework assignment on The Great Gatsby or Moby Dick! Many folks, however, insist that it's not fair for some applicants to receive advice on their essays while others get none. Indeed, "The Dean" maintains that, in a perfect world, each student would write college application essays in a proctored session with no aid at all provided by anyone. But, in our current world, it is considered okay for students to seek essay guidance, as long as the final product is still clearly their own.

Some paid professional essay advisors approach their duties ethically. They may help the student choose an appropriate topic and then offer suggestions for improvements after the student has completed a draft independently. But there are also hired guns out there who write all or most of the essay themselves or who make such sweeping changes that the student's voice disappears.

Admission officials often say that they can sniff out inauthentic essays that weren't authored by teenagers. "The Dean" believes that this is sometimes but not always true. But I also believe that students — and their parents — know in their hearts if the writing sent to colleges has crossed a line — however fine — that separates an honest submission from an unscrupulously altered one. And, as the world learned from last year's celebrity scandal, parents who provide illicit admission assistance are ultimately doing their children a great disservice. So even if you enlist a professional to oversee the application process, do make sure that your children can still claim their essays as their own.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

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Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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