How Your Parents Can Help You Write Your College Essay

How Your Parents can help you write your college essay

First, a few reasons your mom or dad may not be your best college essay editor:

1. They may secretly want to live (and write) through you.

Many parents (and older siblings) may want to give you the experience in college that they never had. Or they may have had a great experience and want you to have that same experience (I’m guilty of wishing this for my younger brother). Beware.

How do you know if this is true? If you sense that at times they’re wanting this more than you do.

If you sense this might be true--that mom or dad may be getting a little *too* involved with your college essay writing process--here’s what to do:

Lovingly look him or her in the eye and say:  

“[Mom/dad]... I need this to be my process.”

They’ll get it. And if they don’t, say it again. With more love. Let him/her know you really care about them, that you want to honor their opinions, but that you need some time to work on your own. More on how they can help in a sec.

2. For some parents, it feels like nothing is good enough.

This is death to the creative process. We’re our own worst critics. Having a second voice telling us that the intro is flat or that the essay doesn’t really reveal who you are--particularly while you’re still in process--makes it really hard to feel free to tell your best story. Particularly if you’re triggered by this because you feel you’ve heard “It’s not good enough” or some version of it your whole life. (And note that I’m not saying that you have heard this, but simply that you feel you’ve heard this--it may not reflect your parents’ reality or actual reality, but it’s still totally valid.)

First, let’s get one thing straight: your mom and dad love you. Even if you feel you have parents for whom nothing is ever good enough, it’s not precisely true. They do care about and want the best for you. Really. It’s just that sometimes it may feel like they’re prioritizing your [getting into a great college/getting an A/insert achievement here] over letting you know how much they care about and love you. Sometimes our parents’ love feels conditional.

If you feel this might be true, here’s something to try:

  • Take a breath in. Then exhale. Remind yourself that your parents love you no matter what, and despite what they may be showing you. Keep going until you really feel this, deep down in your belly. Remind yourself of a few moments when they showed how much they love you.
  • Remind yourself that you’re going to love yourself no matter what you achieve or don’t achieve. (Tip: place your hand over your heart and close your eyes and say “May I be loved.” Then try, “May I be happy.” Really, try this. It really works.)

If you’ve done this and are still feeling a little wonky, try this:

Go up to your mom and dad and, in a calm moment, ask him or her, “Are you going to love me whether or not I [get into a great college/get straight As this semester/whatever your fear is]?” (I know this may seem a little direct, but deep down this is what you’re wondering, right?) See what happens.


Tell him/her something you appreciate about them. Get really specific. (Example: “I appreciate how passionate you are about your work.” (or) “I appreciate how open you are to feedback” (or anything else--you can find something.) Hint: praise them for something that they are rather than something they do. (Beware of making your own love conditional. :-)

Then ask, “What’s something you appreciate about me?”

And if they praise you for something you do or have done, coach them a little. Ask, “What about for something that I am rather than something that I’ve done?”

Okay, here’s how your parents can help you write your essay:

1. They can help you brainstorm.

Your parents know you really well. Try this: sit down at a coffee shop for an hour and, on a blank sheet of paper, write down everything you think a college should know about you. (I’m stealing this idea from a college admissions rep at the Univ. of Georgia, btw.) Don’t worry about whether or not it’ll all the details will end up in the essay. (Hint: they won’t.) Jot down adjectives that describe you, interesting things you’ve done, random things you like to do, anything you can think of. Afterwards, thank them. Maybe even offer to buy their coffee. :-)

2. They can give you support and feedback after the essay is done.

Some parents will insist on seeing your essay. Let them know you’re going to show them, but to wait. Work on your essay until you feel really comfortable with it. Until you can explain why each paragraph is there, how each paragraph is working in the essay. And when you feel it’s time to ask for feedback, try this:

a. Ask them to say something they like about it first. (This is good advice for any feedback-giving session.)

b. Ask them specifically what you’d like feedback on. (Is it the grammar? The structure? The topic?) The fact is, most people aren’t taught how to give feedback. You can help by giving some guidance on what you’re looking for: it makes it easier both on the feedback-giver and you. And if your parent gives you feedback on something you didn’t ask for feedback on, don’t make them wrong or get defensive. Just note it and then

c. Thank them for the feedback.

Once you’ve gotten your parents’ two cents, remember these three things:

  1. Before you make any changes, ask yourself: am I changing this because I agree with the feedback or because it’s coming from one of my parents?
  2. This is ultimately your essay and you’re the one who needs to be happy with it. After all, you’re the one applying to college. Not them.
  3. Your parents’ opinions, while valid, are just one of the many you’ll receive. And you know what they say: Opinions are like… (well, you can Google that).

In short, be kind to your parents. They’re doing they’re best. Know they want the best for you, despite how that may look, sound or feel.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.