College counselors should not change voice of personal essays

November 2, 2018 — by Francesca Chu

I’d cut out the some of the description of feeling empty inside. I think it’s too personal, and you don’t want colleges to think you’re depressed. Focus more on times when you felt happy, like when you felt like you could change the world or something. You know, something inspiring. And we need to work on word choice that’ll make you sound smarter.

So goes a typical essay-editing session with my college counselor. I nod and promise to think about the suggestions, because I know he wants me to take his advice. After all, as he’s said multiple times, he’s helped get plenty of kids into great colleges before me, so he knows what’s best.

But here’s my problem: If colleges want to get to know each individual and understand what makes them unique, how can anyone know what should be written except the actual writer?  

I understand that most college counselors have only good intentions and are providing students with their best and honest opinion about how to write the most impressive essay to get into college. However, after essays undergo several rounds of editing with a college counselor, the writing often loses the voice and personality that makes it unique to the writer.

It’s hard for students to authentically show who they are when college counselors are telling them to omit or change key words or sentences, or when counselors are adding their own fancy, sophisticated vocabulary to supposedly reveal the applicant’s intelligence.

For example, I’ve been told that something I’ve written is too personal and isn’t what people usually want to share in their essays. But what if the personal issue I’m writing about is important to me, and I want to be transparent about it and let colleges know? Counselors are entitled to their own opinions, but they shouldn’t make it sound like I’ll really hurt my chances of getting accepted into a college that I want to attend if I don’t take their advice.

Then we get to the wording. My counselor tells me I shouldn’t sound like I’m having a conversation with my friend when I’m writing. But isn’t that the point? The admissions officer should read my essay and feel like they know who I am.

If I were the type of person who has a sophisticated vocabulary and usually uses fancy language in my writing, then of course I should do so in my essays. But that isn’t me. I don’t need to use words like “elucidate” and “quintessential” in my essays. Each person has their own personal voice and writing style and should use whatever words they think will capture their personality best.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s important for students to carefully think through the all aspects of their essays from content to diction, and it will take several drafts and revisions before an essay becomes the polished, finished product that colleges see.

But these essays should actually be personal “personal statements.” And in the end, the writer is the only one who should be deciding what to write about and how to convey the meaning of their experiences.

College counselors should realize that there isn’t a rubric that lays out the rules of what a college essay should or shouldn’t be. The essays are supposed to reveal what kind of person the applicant is, so students should write whatever it is that they think colleges should know.

Students should feel free to share a time in their life when they felt alone or depressed and shouldn’t be encouraged to shy away from sensitive or hot-button topics. They should be able to use whatever words they believe represent their personality.

Having said all of this, I should also say I am thankful for my college counselor, because he often does provide valuable advice for my essays, like making sure I stay on topic and actually answer the prompt. However, students should only take counselors’ ideas into consideration if they want to and if the advice feels right.

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