Is it difficult for college admission officers to tell when a student has not written his own application essay?
No, it often isn’t difficult at all. Admission officers read thousands of college essays, year after year. It’s easy for them to tell the difference between a seventeen-year old voice and a forty-something one; a middle-aged dad with writing finesse sounds like a middle-aged dad with writing finesse. Natural phrasing and word choice are generation-specific and difficult to disguise. Even subtle differences will stand out to seasoned readers. And these differences are apparent even when they are only a few insertions here and there throughout an otherwise student-written piece. Suspicious readers, whether they are sure about subterfuge or not, will certainly be disposed to scrutinize the rest of the application more diligently or to add a comment to the student’s file.
In addition, remember that an application reader has a student’s grades from English classes in hand, as well as SAT or ACT scores; and/or writing samples from supplemental essays. There may also be a letter of recommendation from the student’s eleventh grade English teacher — a letter that will specifically address the student’s aptitudes and abilities. (Some teachers even provide a short sample of the student’s work.)
Furthermore, parents sometimes forget to conceal what they are doing, or simply don’t realize how obvious they are. For example, during their turn at impersonating Junior, we slips in for I, and me becomes us, as in: “We were so worried when I was in the emergency room; the doctor told us I was lucky we came in immediately.” There also tend to be notable references to what Mom or Dad did, thought or said — “Dad breathed a sigh of relief” or “My Mom was very anxious.” Spell check won’t catch those types of errors for you.
Besides being perceptible to others, when you take over you may as well be saying he can’t do it without your help. What’s more, a parent’s product stands a higher chance of being superficial, pedantic and boring. It may be grammatically correct, but a boring essay adds nothing to the application. It is, therefore, a wasted opportunity to enhance the student’s admission possibilities.
It’s also a wasted opportunity when students do not set aside some time before college digging deep in self-reflection. Taking this time to reflect helps students find structure in their life stories and meaning in the person they have become. The writing process can also help students articulate their interests and aspirations in this context of self-understanding — wonderful preparation for all those future internship and job interviews they’ll face. (Mom, Dad, you won’t be there for those!)
Working hard on and completing a thoughtful college essay can boost a student’s self-confidence and spark his excitement about starting college the next year. What more could parents want than for their college-bound teen to realize that he is his own best resource, ready to take on college and life as he transitions into adulthood? Do your seventeen-year old a favor and step aside… you may be surprised at what a genuine and heartfelt self-narrative junior will write.