Congratulations! The first draft of your college essay is done. You have a good sense of how you want to tell the story of that time you did CPR to save a dying baby seal, or what exact details to use from your weekend cat-sitting for the Dalai Lama. All the hard parts are over. Right?
Yes and no. The bulk of your work is done: it’s far harder to bring an essay into existence than it is to make an okay essay better. At the same time, though, the editing process is a far more subtle and unclear stage of the game. It can be difficult to know exactly what needs fixing. That’s where a proofreader comes in: someone who you trust and who likes you enough to spend time reading your essay. So who should you ask to read this?
Someone your age
It might sound strange to ask a peer to proofread your essay, but chances are they have been thinking about this process just as much as you have, and their advice is likely to be valuable. The college application has changed a lot, and your peers can be the most familiar with what colleges are looking for now. Your friends and classmates also know you and know the essay you’re capable of writing, so they’re likely to be a good resource.
When it comes to college essays, parents are likely to be the most involved adults in your life. For better or for worse, they’ll often try to help as if your whole future hinges on it (which, if your essay is really good or really bad, it can). They can be good as a second pair of eyes, but trust yourself on the content. Parents tend to be uncomfortable with their child writing anything that might make them “look bad,” including using more informal language, humor, or a topic that isn’t praising yourself, but these are often components of great essays. Your parent’s idea of the perfect essay is likely to be more of a resume regurgitation than a compelling personal statement, so keep that in mind.
Teachers, guidance counselors, or other trusted adults
Both teachers and guidance counselors can be good resources for essay editing—if they’re willing and have the time. They’re likely to be swamped by requests for letters of recommendation, or, in the case of guidance counselors, many other students looking for the same kind of help you’re seeking. For this reason, the help you receive from these figures might be less personal than would be hoped. While they don’t have the same personal attachment and investment that parents can provide, they’re likely to have a great deal more experience, and for that reason they can be valuable. Just know what to expect: slightly more generic advice, but certainly solid.
Someone a little older than you, but not by much
Whether it’s a friend’s older sibling, a former camp counselor, a cousin or anyone else, talking to someone that applied to college recently (and got in somewhere decent) can be extremely helpful.. A “near-peer” — someone a bit too young to be a mentor, but too old to be a peer — often has the Goldilocks-style perfect combination of enough experience to guide you, but not so much that their experience is out-of-date.
Private college consultants
Okay, we can admit to being a little biased on this one, but with that in mind, here are the benefits of professional mentors: we have the academic experience, professional experience, and personal connection to be the ideal essay helpers. The college essay is very different from pretty much every other type of writing, so it’s important to talk to someone who knows what a good one looks like.
In the end, whether you hire a mentor or not, this is what you should look for: someone who knows you and believes in your writing, someone who is a good writer themselves, and someone with enough experience in the college process not to suggest you write an essay about your weeklong service trip abroad.