Is it OK for Someone to Proofread Your College Application Essay?

Getting another pair of eyes on an essay is a good idea, experts say, but don't go overboard.

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Asking a teacher or family member to proofread your college essay can be a great idea, but when does getting outside help become too much? This week, our experts weigh in on the best practices for proofreading your essay, along with some definite red flags to avoid. Ashley Banks of White Plains, N.Y., asks:

Q: Is it OK to have someone proofread your essay?

A: Proofread, yes. Rewrite, no!

Janet Rosier, independent college admissions consultant, Janet Rosier's Educational Resources 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.

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

Susan Sykes, president, SS Advisor And you should have someone review your application essays. 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 résumé 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.

See all of Susan's admissions advice.

A: Many eyes are fine, but only one voice.

James Maroney, director, First Choice College Placement 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.

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A: Don't let silly mistakes kill your chances for admission.

Linda Turner, president, The College Choice 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 his or her college. Just remember: proofreading is not the same as having someone else rewrite your essay.

See all of Linda's admissions advice.

[Read other do's and don'ts for college admissions essays.]

A: A good essay should be delicious from start to finish.

Julie Manhan, founder, College Navigation It's not only OK; 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 OK, 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.

See all of Julie's admissions advice.

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