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Students Ask, College Counselors Answer

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This week's question from Ashley Banks, White Plains, NY asks:

Is it OK to have someone proofread your essay?

A good essay should be delicious from start to finish

Julie Manhan | Founder
It’s not only okay; it’s essential. Submitting an essay that has spelling and grammatical errors is like leaving out an ingredient in your famous chocolate chip cookies. Sure, they may still taste “okay”, but they’re not as good as they could have been. Leave out a crucial ingredient and they may be inedible. Errors are distracting. A misplaced comma can even change the tone. So, find someone who has experience correcting essays to take a look at yours. Listen to their comments, too. Their insight may help you focus your essay; making your essay memorable for all the right reasons.

A second pair of eyes could make your work more accurate and clear

Marilyn Watson | Former School College Counselor
It seems to me that having a second pair of eyes look over your essay is certainly a good idea. You would want the reader to clarify any questions or obscurities that arise, as well as to double check grammar and spelling errors that the computer may or may not have picked up. It is important that the ideas, and the wording, basically, no, primarily stay your own. It must be your work and you should feel proud about what you express in this essay.

Admissions Essays – Am I On My Own?

Penny Deck | College Counselor
It is certainly permissible and even advisable to have others proof and help you edit your essay(s). In fact, many English teachers assign college essays as graded assignments and freely give students constructive feedback and advice. The key is that the essay is your work and your voice comes through. Admissions representatives are able to tell who had “too much assistance” in the process!

And your definition of proofreading is….???

Mabel Freeman | Asst. VP for Undergraduate Admissions
Whether it is spellcheck or your Mom or your friendly English teacher, getting help proofreading your essay is never a problem. Doing so results in putting your best effort forward, but “your best effort” means *you* are doing the original and final work. We ask for the essay because we want to know what *you* think. It’s not going to be your Mom or your English teacher who enrolls in our universities (but you can bring spellcheck with you.) You will be the person who shows up. Don’t you want to go someplace where you can really be you?

Another Pair of Eyes on Your College Essays

Jeannie Borin | Founder & President
It's not only ok to have your essays proofread, it’s critical. Another pair of eyes can catch typos, grammatical errors, and other mistakes in your essays. It is essential that students do the writing and present their own voice. However, simple suggestions to improve and modify may be appropriate. Ask a friend, teach, counselor or parent to read you essays before you submit. Make sure that any suggestions do not change the essence of your essays. Also, read your essays out loud. Errors can be caught that way too!

Colleges assume that students will ask someone to proofread their essays

Peggy Hock | Educational Consultant
It is also a good idea to have someone who knows you well read a draft of each essay and provide feedback. Some helpful questions to ask your reader: Did they lose interest part way through? What did they learn about you from your essay? Is this what you intended to convey? Readers should not write on your essay nor should they contribute content. The essay must remain your own work and reflect your natural voice. Ask a trusted adult to proofread your final draft, as you would for any important professional writing.

Did You Really Mean to Say That?

Patricia Tamborello | College Counselor
The only way a college discovers more about you as a person is through your college essay. So, it is vital that it reveals the real “you”. It is fine to have someone proofread your essay and to make suggestions, but, keep it in your own words. Often, proofreaders become re-writers and steal your voice. Ask the proofreader if your essay answers the prompt and most importantly, is it the message that you want to make? Of course, grammar and spelling are key so some advise there is fine as well.

Does James Patterson have someone review his novels? Well, yes!

Susan Sykes | President
And you should have someone review your application essays as well. Ask a trusted teacher (with good command of written English) to provide feedback about how your essay “holds” together; ask a parent or aunt or uncle to review the document for spelling and grammatical errors. And ask a friend whether the essay “sounds” like you. Your grades, testing and resume provide the skeleton of your application. Your essay adds personality and flair. Your essay represents you and you want to present your very best self to colleges.

Don’t Let Silly Mistakes Kill Your Chances For Admission

Linda Turner | President
Proofread, proofread, proofread. Like location, location, location for real estate value, proofreading is tantamount to producing an essay that rises to the top for admission readers. A good rule of thumb is “two sets of eyes”. It is not only OK to have someone proofread your essays, it is essential that someone other than yourself do this. We all know how easy it is to miss errors that are right in front of us. Neglecting to proofread for grammar, spelling and unconscious serious errors says to the reader that you are sloppy and don’t really care about their college. Just remember: proofreading is not the same as having someone else re-write your essay.

Essay Must Be Fool Proofed

Farron Peatross | Educational Consultant
Or don’t be a fool and have someone proofread your essay! Does an attorney turn in his brief to the Judge without a proofreading? Does an editor turn in his editorial to the paper without a proofreading? Does an author have his book published without an editor proofreading? Would you turn in an essay to your English teacher without proofreading first? Of course not, the essay should be yours in thought and word, but to take a suggestion and make a change that is in your own voice, is not only an enhancement of your writing, but a learning experience.

Get Help. Be Smart

Mark Montgomery | Founder
Consider this: an estimated 26% of American kids with above-average test scores are hiring consultants to help them with their applications. If you don't at least have a trusted adult read over your essays and provide comments and suggestions for improvement, you're doing yourself a disservice. The competition to top schools is fierce, so pull out every arrow from your quiver. But be careful: you need to retain your own voice. Don’t let well-meaning adults boss you around: your message should be your own.

Getting Feedback is a Terrific Idea

John Carpenter | Founder
YES! It's not only OK to have someone proofread your essay, it's a really smart idea. The best writers in the world rely on other people to give them feedback, and you should do the same. Ask someone you trust to read your essay not only for grammatical or spelling errors but also to see what message they get from reading it. "What does this essay tell you about me?" is a good question to pose. You might be surprised by the answer, and if you are, maybe you should consider making some adjustments. Getting feedback is smart. And it's also honest. The problem comes when someone else starts WRITING or rewriting your essay; that's a completely different story, and guess what? Not good! But asking someone to read your essay for general feedback shows that you're brilliant and is a very good idea.

Good writers use good proofreaders

Andrea van Niekerk | Educational Consultant
How much and what kind of help is appropriate when writing your essay, is always a tricky question. The short answer is that some assistance is priceless, as long as it remains your work and your voice. Having someone proofread your work – other eyes checking for pesky misspellings and grammar gremlins – is only sensible. Good presentation is too important to rely only on your tired eyes, desperation to be done, and an inconsistent spell checker! But remember it is also too important for you to give up ownership of your essay, and let another speak for you.

Having admissions essays proofread is a good thing

Bill Yarwood | Director of Guidance
Yes, it is important to have your admissions essays proofread before submitting them. Of course, your proofreader should not re-write your essay, but some editorial suggestions can always help. Few of us can effectively proofread our own writing. One strategy that does help is suggested by Peter Van Buskirk of the College Admissions Game. Peter suggests that you read your essays aloud to yourself. Do this before giving the essay to your proofreader. You might be surprised at the errors you will pick up when reading aloud, that you might not have caught when reading silently.

It’s mine- what do you think???

Elinor Adler | Founder
When an author writes a book s/he usually has an editor who proofreads the manuscript. The college essay is your story. It’s your way of telling the college more about yourself. And before writing you may have discussed with others topics you might consider, stories you might tell. When you have a final draft, like the author of the book, it’s fine to have another proofread it. What you do with that person’s suggestions is key. Listen and learn, but the final product should be entirely yours.

It’s more than OK to have someone proofread your essay

Larry Dannenberg | Founder
It’s necessary. You wouldn’t send anything important without someone else looking at it. And this is important. This essay should say a lot about you; and say it error-free. You want the final reader to focus on your content, not your typos. Someone with a fresh set of eyes will find spelling mistakes and grammar gaffes that you’ve looked at a million times and didn’t catch. Just clicking ‘Spelling & Grammar’ isn’t enough. Homophones (their, there) and omitted words will slip by. Other suggestions - print it out for a look, read it aloud or even read sections out of order to catch more mistakes.

Many Eyes, But Only One Voice

James Maroney | Director
The college admissions essay should represent a student’s best work, so it is acceptable to have others edit the essay. I would recommend that several people look at the essay, and see if after reading it they get a sense that the essay really represents the person who wrote it. While it is ok to edit, and make suggestions for improving, the essay should be the student’s own work and in the student’s unique voice. So, editing an essay is permissible, but writing an essay for a student or significantly rewriting an essay is not.

Of course it is OK!

Hannah Serota | College Counselor
Even professional writers use proofreaders? Why shouldn’t you? The tricky part of this is making sure that what a proofreader does is just that: proofread. The essay needs to be your work – your writing style, your words, your ideas. You can brainstorm, run ideas by someone, talk over your essay topic. Your proofreader - a teacher, counselor, parent, friend, or mentor - can point out spelling and grammatical mistakes, and offer suggestions and reactions to the flow and message of your essay. All of this will help you write to the best of your ability. What they cannot do is change sentences or write sections for you. In the end, the essay needs to be authentically yours. As long as proofreading does not become rewriting, not only do I say “yes, it is OK,” but I actually recommend it as part of the college admission essay writing process.

Proofread – yes! Have an essay written by someone else – never!

Dale Ford | Counseling Department Chair
Even the best authors have their words proofread. You should, too. While proofreading is expected and acceptable, having someone write or completely re-write an essay certainly isn’t. And don’t even think about using one of those online college essay sites. Not only is it wrong to submit someone else’s work as your own, some colleges use turnitin.com to check for plagiarized essays. One of the fastest ways to be denied is to be dishonest in your application.

Proofread and Ponder: A Second Pair of Eyes is Invaluable

Rachel Winston | President
The Yale College admissions website states, “proofread, proofread, proofread! Share your essays with at least one or two people who know you well – such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or friend – and ask for feedback… others may be able to catch mistakes that you missed and help suggest areas to cut if you are over the word limit.” My advice is no different. Colleges seek a mix of talents, skills, interests, and viewpoints. There is no prescribed essay topic or style. Be unique, but remember, no matter how adept you are at writing, a second pair of eyes is invaluable.

Proofread Yes, Rewrite, No!

Janet Rosier | Independent College Admissions Consultant
The essay is a very important part of your application-it is the only time you are speaking for yourself. It is perfectly fine to have a trusted adult read your essay and give a critique. However, you want to keep this to a minimum--one or, at most, two people. If you have too many people giving you advice, your voice may get lost. The colleges are serious when they say they want to hear your voice in the essay-- not your parent’s voice and not your English teacher’s voice. The college admissions officers are pretty savvy and can spot an essay that has been overly massaged by others.

Proofread yes: Ghostwrite no: Tips for college application essays

Rebecca Joseph | Executive Director & Founder
College application essays/personal statements can make or break a college admissions decision. These essays help make you pop off the page and become three dimensional for colleges. Spend time on them. Tell powerful unique stories. Yet so many parents and adults help kids write these essays. So kids, JUST SAY NO. You need to write the essays. You need to share your voices. Of course, an adult or friend can proofread it. That is expected. Don’t send in a piece that is filled with grammar or spelling errors. Remember, college admissions officers can smell adult written essays, so please refuse ghostwriting.

Proofread? Absolutely. Write Or Re-write? Never

Joan Bress | Director & Certified Educational Planner
Of course you want your essay to be perfect. Typos and careless errors have no place in a well-written application essay. Once you have done your best work and have checked your essay carefully, you should definitely ask someone you trust to check for misspelled words and misplaced commas. Be sure that this person doesn’t leave their mark on your essay, though. If, after your essay has been proofread, you see something you don’t remember writing, the essay is no longer your work.

Proofreading is a must

Maura Kastberg | Vice President of Client Services
As with most writing assignments there are steps that help produce a better piece of writing. First start early! Make sure you give yourself time to rewrite and rework your essay. Start by writing your draft then leave it alone for a few days. Pick it back up look it over and tweak the areas that are weak. Read your essay aloud. Many times your ears will pick up awkward passages that your eyes may not see. Follow this process until you feel like your essay represents your best effort. Then bring it to your English teacher to be proofread. Having your English teacher or another appropriate person proofread your essay is important. Just as reading your essay aloud the third person may find areas that need revision you would not have noticed.

Proofreading is an Important Part of the Process!

Nina Marks | Founder
I have never turned down an invitation to proof a student’s essay. This does not negate the originality of the essay. It just means that someone checked the spaces, punctuation, and word choice; these have to be 100 percent correct when you hit “submit.” Remember, people who like to proofread essays – and other materials, for that matter – are very, very picky! They may not always agree, either. So show your written work to only a few people you trust, just not too many. And make sure the essay is one which only you could have written. That’s the mark of a winning essay, and college admissions officers know it!

Proofreading with and without a red pen

Dave Hamilton | Director of College Advising
Students should always actively seek feedback when it comes to their college essay. Who should students ask? An English teacher, counselor, trusted peer, or role model who could offer specific advice on the writing sample. What about parents? I tell students to let them read it but they are not allowed to make any marks. All too often in my college admission days, I would review an essay and the tone would change from paragraph to paragraph due to contributors other than the student. Their input is valuable but the author of the essay always needs to be the student.

Proofreading Your Essay is Necessary—So Is Entertaining Your Audience

David Montesano | Admission Strategist & Founder
While it is fine to have someone proofread your admission essay, please make sure that your voice comes across in your essay. You might use unique language and write in first person, present tense. It is important to write in an exciting way so that your audience is entertained. Your audience is mostly female and so you should try to appeal to your audience and remember that they may not share your political view or sense of humor, so be careful. Your essay should share something about you so that your audience learns more about who you are in the process. Don’t worry about scoring points in the essay or including your accomplishments unless the prompt asks for accomplishments...your essay doesn’t need to be a resume. And, finally, less is more—stick to a simple theme for maximum reader impact.

Retaining Your Own Voice and Style is Key

Jane Hoffman | Founder
It is not only ok to have someone proofread your admissions essay but it is actually encouraged, expected and at times directly advised by college admission officers in their messages and materials. Unfortunately, that directive often leads to general public confusion about how much help is too much. To lend some clarification, a reader highlighting any errors of grammar or spelling is helpful. And giving feedback as to what she learned about the student is great. A student should never seek proofreading “by committee”. And he should know that retaining his own voice and style is key.

Seek feedback from strong writers who know you well

Jennifer DesMaisons | Director of College Counseling
It's almost always worth having someone look over your essay. Where it can get awkward is if a parent or someone too close to you wants to start 'reshaping' and 'reworking' your writing. Probably wise to look toward a teacher, mentor, counselor, or friend for help. Think about the people who know you well and people who are strong writers themselves. Stay away from having others rewrite your ideas, but rather ask them to check for typos and awkward wording. Most importantly, get feedback about whether your writing represents who you are and expresses your voice.

Students should always seek feedback on their admissions essays

Craig Meister | President
All students should have individuals they trust review their application essays. Most students applying to top colleges have the grades and the scores to succeed at these colleges; what will set their applications apart is how articulate they choose to be on the enormously important essay, or essays. Colleges don’t ask for a student to complete essays for the heck of it; colleges want to see how a student thinks and how he or she communicates. A student who does not seek outside input on their essays is equivalent to an athlete who refuses to take a coach’s advice.

The Eyes of Others Help

Gail Lewis | Educational Consultant
An editor I know says one can never proofread one’s own work! Typos lurk and sense errors hide in drafts familiar to the writer. Having one or two well-read, interested proofreaders review your essay draft will not only ensure you catch these basic errors. They may also alert you to details that you need to add for clarity and make general suggestions that will enrich this important window into your world. Don’t forget to proofread your own work aloud – you will ‘hear’ how you sound, and simulate the admissions reader’s experience. Fix anything that sounds awkward to your ear!

The operative word here is “proofread” - the answer? A qualified “yes”!

Candy Cushing | Associate Director of College Counseling
Colleges want to know the who of the you you are. Your essay is the only point of non-numerical or someone else’s opinion that a college receives. Ensure your voice comes through loud and clear. Not the voice of an adoring parent or thesaurus-referencing teacher. Commit to what you want a college to know about you and have the proofreader verify that has been accomplished. Have someone read your essay bottom to top to find typos. Mistakes usually ocurr in the last too sentances. Sea what eye mean?

What “proofread” is and is not

Pamela Ellis | Founder
Prior to submitting a college application, students can have someone else proofread their admissions essay. A good rule of thumb is 2 people who know you in different settings. However, each person who proofreads should recognize that it is the student’s essay. Proofread means that the essay will be reviewed for errors which distract or interfere with meaning. Proofread does not mean rewrite, change vocabulary words, move sentences. Students must always maintain voice and ownership of their admissions essay.


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