Q:

I am not a particularly good writer. Is it OK to get some help in writing my college-admissions essays? How much help is too much help? — Poor Writer

A:

Some outside help is acceptable. You may certainly talk with people about ideas for the topic. And it’s nice to receive encouragement from others. Once your first draft is finished, you can ask someone (teacher, parent, friend) to point out errors (punctuation, spelling, grammar). It is also acceptable to receive general feedback on areas that need revision. Help crosses the line when this person begins rewriting or editing your work.

The role of the essay has become more important recently in the admissions process at some schools. It is being used to distinguish students from others with similar test scores, grades, references and activities.

Some students, especially those applying to highly selective schools, are seeking help from educational consultants and essay specialists in order to get an edge over fellow applicants. Some are receiving far more help than is appropriate. The irony here is that college admissions officers can spot the too perfect essay. They have a good idea of what the writing of a typical teen should sound like. If an essay is too highly polished, they can compare it with your SAT essay or even ask your high school for a writing sample. Many schools now ask students to sign a statement saying their essays are their own work.