How to Talk to Parents about Imperfect Essays

At least once a week, someone asks Susan or me a variation on this question: How do you talk to parents about imperfect essays?

We nod because we get it. Parents often have unrealistic expectations, not because they are unreasonable, but because they don’t really understand the role of the college essay in the application package.

We know that managing parent expectations is a delicate issue. For us, too. But we found a solution.

Would you like to give it a try?

As you move one class past the finish line for the Class of 2023 and start working with the Class of 2024, it’s a great time to look back on the season, think about how you communicate with parents, and consider what their concerns really are.

We try to set expectations up front. We communicate our intentions from the beginning (and again in the middle and one more time at the end of the process!)

We explain here’s how we do things, here’s what you can expect, here’s what you shouldn’t expect. This includes sending an email like this one early on, before the student even completes a first draft:

Dear [Parent],

I wanted to check in and let you know how pleased I am with the direction [Student]’s essay is headed. The topic illustrates her [insert characteristics, e.g., resourcefulness and curiosity], and I am confident admissions officers will find the story compelling and engaging. Highlighting these positive traits will help round out the application.

We encourage our students to write a first draft that’s messy and too long, so they feel free to explore their topic in depth without worrying about word count, first lines or other structure and polish concerns. With that in mind, I encourage you to wait till the final draft to take a peek!

If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.


[Coach’s Name]

We don’t discuss the topic with parents; we focus on the student’s traits and characteristics. This helps the parent see that the student is on track, calms them from the beginning, and hopefully sets realistic expectations.

We also encourage parents to wait until the final draft to read their child’s essay, as first drafts will often look messy and unfocused to an outsider.

It works. We share templates like this one with counselors who participate in our professional training programs. We also have a lot of great, free resources for you and your famlies here.

Perceptive, resourceful, and curious, Kim Lifton, President of Wow Writing Workshop, can get a story out of anyone; she helped create the brainstorming process used in the Wow Method.

Wow provides students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays, so students can stand out and tell their stories. At Wow, we’re transforming the college essay experience from daunting and frightening to calm and empowering.

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.