A letter to parents of my college essay students

Dear parents,

Thank you for trusting me to guide your student through this important work. Here are some of the things your student will be doing with me, and how you can help and stay involved. 

What’s a college essay for? Who reads them? 

Applications contain a lot of information. The first thing that college admissions officers look at are grades, the list of courses the student took to achieve those grades, and test scores (if any), such as SAT, ACT. If your student makes the first cut with these numbers, the next thing that admissions officers will turn to is their essays.

Essays differentiate your student from every other applicant with the same numbers. The essays are the only part of the application where college admissions officers can get to know your student as a person. Essays reveal things that don’t show up anywhere else in the application. The best essays reveal the student’s unique personality, how they think, and how they see themselves in the world. The essay topic is less important than what the essay reveals about the student’s traits, goals, and ability to reflect on their own experiences, how these experiences affected them, and what they want to do in college and in their life. 

What is college essay coaching?

Just as a tennis coach teaches players to improve their game, I teach students to write essays to “win” the college admissions game – to give them their best shot at being admitted. 

I take them through a process that starts with identifying their traits, skills, experiences and goals. We identify stories from their lives that demonstrate these traits and goals most effectively. Then they start to write. The first draft is never final; it’s probably not well written, and that’s fine. Together, we shape and tweak the essay, usually over several drafts. When finalized, each one of your student’s essays will be interesting, easy to read, and tell a story that could only be told by them, in their own unique voice. They reveal who your student is and make a compelling case for admission.

How is college essay coaching different than college counseling?

Your student’s counselor provides a wide range of advice, from high school course selection, standardized testing strategy and preparation, choosing extracurriculars and of course compiling a list of colleges to apply to. 

Once the college list is semi-firm, usually in the summer before senior year of high school, that’s where I come in. And once applications have been submitted, our work together is done. Your relationship with your college counselor will continue through the end of the process, when you have received offers, chosen one to accept, and enrolled in college. 

How important are the essays?

Grades, course list and test scores are the first considerations for college admissions officers. If your student makes that first cut, admissions officers will read the essays to find out whether your student would be a good fit for their next freshman class. 

How to help

If you’re interested in helping your student with their essays, here are some tips:

Please do

  • Ask your student what they are learning in our sessions about what makes a good college application essay. 
  • Ask them about their essay topic ideas. Why have they chosen that story to tell? What does it mean to them? What did they learn from that experience?  
  • Listen to their essay ideas without saying much, especially in the early stages. Writing is a creative process that takes time. 
  • Help them to attend our scheduled meetings and complete their writing assignments by reminding them, if necessary
  • If your student asks you to read an essay, please do! 
  • As you read if, ask yourself, “Does this sound like something my student would say? Would it help the reader to know what my student is like as a person?” With this in mind, tell them what you think.

Please don’t

  • Edit their writing. It’s important that the essay be written by them and be authentic. 
  • Invite others to edit or critique, even if they went to that college themselves, are a good writer, etc. This usually results in an essay that does not sound like a 17-year-old person – and certainly not yours.
  • Focus on the details, like punctuation. I’ll proofread the final before it’s submitted.

I love getting to know teenagers, their opinions and aspirations. I enjoy sharing my writing expertise to help young people achieve their goals. I’m happy to talk with you if you have questions. Applying to college can be complicated and stressful. Many parents find that my coaching relieves some of that stress. Thank you for inviting me to do it. 


Ann Nordby, writing coach

July 22nd, 2022
College Essays, News