Parents' Role in Working with Accepted
Congratulations-you've seen your limits. You've realized that while you may know more than anybody about your college-bound child, you aren't the most objective adult to guide him in writing his personal statement. As Harry Bauld tells students in his book, On Writing the College Application Essay: Secrets of a Former Ivy League Admissions Officer, "Parents have their uses, but reading your college essay isn't usually one of them. They care too much, and often don't know quite enough."
Parents do have their uses in the college application process. Now that you've hired a professional editor to help your teen develop or polish his essay, however, you may be wondering about your role. Here's how a parent can help smooth the path:
- Allow Your Son or Daughter To Be the Client
- Recognize What Makes an Essay Topic Good
- Determine How Billing Should Be Handled
- Communicate Concerns Early and Openly
Allow Your Son or Daughter To Be the Client
Your daughter is a young adult, spreading her wings to fly off to college, but she's still under your roof, and you're the one footing the bill for her editor. So is she the client or are you? Well, both-but mostly it's your daughter. She should feel like the essay is her project, that she and her editor can develop a working relationship somewhat independent of you.
- What works: Most often, a parent calls to discuss our service and provide her view of the situation and needs. After arranging payment, the parent then puts her child in contact with the editor to begin the process, only entering the picture again as concerns arise or to check progress. In one particularly effective situation, a mother and daughter spoke with me on the phone simultaneously about their expectations, concerns, and questions. Together we determined an approach, then the mother bowed out, leaving responsibility to her daughter.
- What doesn't work: Some parents ask to be sent a copy of every e-mail and draft that their child and I exchange, and while the request sounds reasonable, I have found that the applicant often feels cramped by the constant Parental Eye. I've worked with parents who communicate for their teen-sending me drafts, replying to questions I pose, returning calls; such intervention removes ownership from the applicant and can prevent a healthy dialogue from developing between writer and editor.
Discuss with your editor what will work best for your family, remembering that your child will need to take the lead.
Recognize What Makes an Essay Topic Good
Parents often ask: What do admissions people want to hear? It's an understandable but misguided question-admissions officers want to hear the applicant's voice telling about something that's important to him. Your Accepted.com editor is trained to help your teen arrive at a topic that is meaningful to him, to flesh out the topic, and to write about it in a clear and thoughtful way. If you have concerns about the appropriateness of the topic, express them to your editor early, but understand that the essay is your child's to write-he has to feel passionate about the topic to write the essay well. It can't be your topic. You may worry that your teen has chosen a controversial topic - if it's what defines him and what he feels he must write about, let him write.
Keep in mind, too, the adage "less is more." Understandably, parents want the world to know everything wonderful about their child. In general, the essay must focus on one topic. If your child and her editor have discussed essay options and determined that the essay should explore her summer work on the iguana farm, resist the temptation to suggest "just sticking in" a paragraph about the week you traveled as a family through Mongolia. That's another essay. The application as a whole presents different facets of the applicant-the essay need not show it all.
Determine How Billing Should Be Handled
Some parents want to make their children aware of what their editor costs; other families want to shield them from the financial aspect of the project. Let us know what you prefer. Accepted.com sends billing information by e-mail to the address provided on the registration form, so if you'd like billing information sent only to your e-mail address, and not your child's, please inform your editor and/or the Accepted.com office staff.
If your child is just beginning the process of writing a personal statement, the package approach is usually the most advisable. It allows him to work with his editor for as long as necessary to get it right, without worrying about hourly charges.
Communicate Concerns Early and Openly
I once worked with an applicant whose parents watched the essay development process by monitoring all e-mails and drafts. Over the course of a month, the student writer and I spent hours on the phone brainstorming topics, determining the best one, and working out an outline. The applicant used the outline to write the first draft, and we worked through several more drafts. All the while, the parents remained silent. Then when we were putting finishing touches on the essay shortly before the deadline, the father contacted me to say he had concerns about the topic, but he was reluctant to talk to his daughter about it. Would I guide her in another direction? I couldn't act as his mouthpiece when I didn't agree with him; furthermore, I felt that he needed to talk to his daughter directly, not through me.
Parents can help by raising concerns with both editor and child as soon as they arise. Three-way communication can be tough, but talking openly helps establish and sustain trust. Regular communication can also help ensure that the writer stays on schedule, allotting enough time to write, revise, and polish an essay that provides a vivid snapshot of the student's life and values.
By Alison Jaenicke
Former Accepted Editor