How to Respond to Negative Parent Feedback on a College Essay

I received this email from a parent last month, shortly after her son submitted his early applications. She was concerned about his supplements for the University of Pennsylvania, where he is applying Regular Decision.
For his second essay, I don’t think that his second and third paragraphs answer the questions how Penn will shape his perspective and how his experience and perspective will help Penn. For the third essay, he does not mention how he can take advantage of opportunities at Penn. Can you please guide him to enrich his essays?
We were nice about it, but the answer was No. Her son had worked hard. He was done with his essays, and they were very good. But this was a delicate matter. Our challenge was writing something firm yet diplomatic that would alleviate the mom’s anxiety, while also letting her know she needed to let go.
Here’s our response:
Thanks for reaching out. I’ve read thousands of essays for Penn and other super selective institutions. Your son’s essays are among the best I’ve seen. They are excellent, effective, and answer each part of every prompt.
Additional work on the essays will not enrich the application or help him stand out any more than he already does. I fear the suggestion that the essays are not good enough could make him feel bad about himself, and I wouldn’t want to do that.
I hope this answers your questions and alleviates your concerns.
This type of email or phone call from a parent can throw the most confident counselor off their game. We don’t want that to happen to you.

As you move one class past the finish line and start thinking about the Class of 2025, it’s a great time to look back on the season and reflect on how you communicate with parents. Consider what their concerns really are and how you might handle them next year and beyond.
At Wow, we try to set expectations up front. We communicate our approach from the beginning (and again in the middle and at the end of the process!) We still get a few emails like the one I’ve shared here, but we know how to respond to just about any situation. And by the way, this mom backed off. She even said thank you.
We have dozens of email templates, writing exercises, and review guidelines that help us make good decisions and communicate clearly with parents and students. Get free resources to use with your students.

Kim Lifton is co-founder and President of Wow Writing Workshop, which has been transforming the college essay coaching process for counselors, teachers, tutors, and independent educational consultants since 2009. Whether you’re a brand-new counselor or have decades of experience, essay coaching can be the hardest part of college counseling. It doesn’t have to be that way. We show professionals like you how to teach students to write strong, effective essays with less stress and greater confidence for you, your students, and their parents.

Kim’s articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has
been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and online publications. Kim is a former
newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager with a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. You can email Kim anytime about the college essay; she will always respond.