Don't let adults give your essay a makeover

Wouldn't it be great to write the perfect admissions essay and have it help glide your application into getting that "fat" envelope from an Ivy League school?

Well, it may be tempting to try every means possible to polish your essay to a high gloss. But before you spend or do too much, you might want to consider the views of Gwynne Lynch, a longtime University of Pennsylvania admissions officer.

After reading thousands of essays, her advice: Don't overdo outside editing. "The biggest thing we notice is that some students get way too much input from grownups," she says. "They stop sounding like 17-year-olds. It's not exactly that it's not their own work, but parents, or independent college counselors miscouncil them."

Some essays are very smooth, maybe a bit too good - indicating they were likely ghost-written by an adult or one of the many web sites springing up to help students "edit" their essays. In the past two years, a half-dozen Web sites, such as or, have offered editing services for a few hundred dollars. Whether overedited by a Web service or parents, such essays often contain sophisticated phraseology or subject matter not too close to the heart of most 17-year-olds. So watch out.

Still, it never hurts to cover the basics before you pop your essay in the mail - or click and send it by e-mail. Ms. Lynch cautions students to remember a few reasons selective colleges ask for essays in the first place: First, as a writing sample. Can you spell-check? Do you know the difference between its and it's? Can you handle the writing requirements with relative ease? Can you answer the question?

Second, as a way to keep the number of applications in check. By asking questions different from other schools, selective colleges ensure there is just that much more time going into the decision to apply.

Lynch and others point out that "proofing" an essay is not just spell-checking. Do both. Teresa Duffy, dean of admissions at Rensselaer Polytechnic University in Troy, N.Y., recalls one strong essay that ended with: "... and that's why I want to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."

Finally, many schools do want to get a sense of the student as a person, not just test scores and grades.

"It is very, very difficult to ask someone to bare their soul to faceless strangers," she says. "I respect that risk, whether it's a great essay or not. And I am always grateful to the students willing to go out on a limb to make some aspect of their lives more clear to me than it was before I read the essay."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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