How to Respectfully Stand Your Ground When Parent Questions Essay Quality

Recently, I had an email exchange with a mom who questioned her daughter’s Common App personal statement.

How are you feeling about its quality?  the mom asked.

Her daughter is a very smart girl. Driven by causes. Great mind. Incredibly mature. She wrote an excellent essay showcasing her interest in social justice; she focused her story on one conversation about food insecurity at a progressive summer camp.

Any admissions reader would know she was kind, compassionate and driven, fueled by progressive causes.

Still, the mom wasn’t so sure.

Has this ever happened to you? (No need to answer… I know the answer is yes!!!)

We’ve been in this business for a long time, and yes, this still happens to us. Even though we set expectations upfront. Even though we keep parents in the loop throughout the entire process. It’s just part of the job.

At Wow, we are respectful, but we have learned how to stand our ground.

We help our students write the best essays they are able and willing to write. We supervise our coaches; we also trust them completely. We all follow the same process, and that helps us determine when students are done. And when essays are good enough.

We judge a finished essay by its theme – and improvement. Which does not mean sentences are better.  Or that the writing is tighter.

Improvement can mean more clarity. Additional insight. Or more focus.

Our goal is to help every student answer the prompt and show insight. Using their own story. Their own words. And their own voice.

When I read a second draft or a final essay, I pay attention to how a story has changed and improved, not if it is perfect. 

This girl’s essay was done! I told the mom. And I told her why. Confidently.

This is a quality essay. The story answers the prompt, shows insight into who she is and is reflective. It improved phenomenally from the first draft till the last draft. It sounds like your daughter. That’s what colleges want. Best of all, she is really happy with it.

And guess what? The mom backed off.

When parents say they don’t like a student’s final essay, or it is not good enough, stand your ground. Respectfully. With confidence. Explain why the essay works, how it has improved and what it shows colleges about the student.

This review guide from Step 8 of the Wow Method will give you some insight into how we do it. (This is page 18 of our 39-page guide we give to counselors at the end of our College Essay Experience training).

Kim Lifton is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop a premier college application essay coaching and professional training company, offering private, virtual writing coaching services to professionals and students throughout the world.  Since 2009, Wow has been leading the college admissions industry with our unique approach to communicating messages effectively through application essays, including personal statements, activity and short answer essays and supplements.  Kim leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Kim blogs regularly about the college essay’s role in the admission process for multiple industry publications and websites. In 2019, she was named a LinkedIn Top Voice in Education.

Questions? We’ve got answers.


Pro Chats: Every month we record a new College Essay Pro Chat. Check out the recording, or sign up for next month’s webinar. Wow CEO Susan Knoppow answers questions live for 30 minutes.

Free Student Classes: If you’re a school counselor who wants to help students with the basics, encourage them to sign up for my next free student class, or listen to the recording. You are welcome to sign up, too.