Should I Hire A College Essay Coach?

By Kenton de Kirby

“Why is this so incredibly hard,” I wondered with a mixture of panic and frustration. “I mean, I’m taking my second year of A.P. English, and every English teacher I’ve ever had said I was a great writer. What’s the deal?!” I had no idea what to write about for my college admissions essay, much less how to make it sound…like me—true, authentic. Writing about Shakespeare was one thing; writing about myself was proving to be something else entirely.

My own story of professional essay help

With my parents’ support, I decided to do what I had never done before: get professional academic help.

I have a vivid memory of my experience working with a college essay coach. I remember feeling vulnerable and insecure as we brainstormed my essay topic (and strategized how to avoid sounding boring, generic, and egotistical), but his sense of humor also put me at ease.

I also remember the feeling of submitting my application. I might not get into my top choice school, I said to myself, but I had given it my best shot. The essay I wrote felt like I had put an important piece of myself on the page—not coincidently, a piece that would appeal to college admissions officers.

(If you’re wondering, I did get into my top choice, UC Berkeley, where I would study linguistics and eventually earn my PhD in education. Woohoo!)

So, should you hire a college essay coach?

As an essay coach myself, I’m admittedly biased. But hear me out:

The college essay is important. The college application essay may be the single most important piece of writing you will ever do. While grades and test scores are more heavily weighted, the essay can make or break your college application, and its importance is growing year by year.

More than any time in history, you will be competing with a great many students who have equally good grades, test scores, and interesting extra-curricular activities. The essay is a critical tool for distinguishing yourself. This is especially true if you’re applying to fairly prestigious institutions, which are forced to give extra weight to the essay because of the number of impressive applications they receive.

The college essay is challenging. Writing an effective college essay presents a serious challenge. You are given just a few hundred words to give an admissions officer an insight into your personality, identity, interests, and aspirations—and to make the case that the college would be better with you there. That’s a tall order!

The essay writing process can be stressful, to put it mildly. Conflict with parents over the essay is a common experience. Aside from deciding where to apply and figuring out matters of financial aid, it’s the most time-intensive and high-stakes part of the application process. You can’t submit your application until the writing is done, and the deadline is always looming.

Beware less-than-ideal essay help

Essay help from teachers/parents/counselors can be invaluable, no question—but it can be a little like asking these people to cut your hair. Assuming they’re not professional hair stylists, the result may not be too bad, but…well, you get the idea.

If you’re considering professional essay support, you should know that not all professional support is equivalent. In the worst-case scenario, the “coaching” may even approach ghost-writing, which is blatantly unethical.

However, even legitimate essay coaching can jeopardize the student’s future. Mediocre college essay coaches may be skilled writers, but they only know how to write in their particular style. Admissions officers are no fools—they know how to spot the overly-polished “writerly” essay a mile away.

Truly exceptional college essay coaches know how to help you write your story in your voice. They love getting to know high school students, and they know what college admissions officers are looking for.

(Hint: admissions officers are looking for evidence that the writer is a unique, thinking, feeling human being with something original and meaningful to say, someone who can grapple with the complexity of life—not an achievement robot).

Check out more of Kenton’s College Essay Tips

Final thoughts

Is hiring a professional college essay coach essential to getting into a good school? Of course not! Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

That said, the right help can make a very real difference at this pivotal moment in life. And the process of working with a seasoned pro can be fun, stress-relieving, and—not least—an opportunity to explore who you are, where you’ve been, and what you truly value.

Kenton de Kirby is a college essay coach. He has a PhD in Education and has been a professional writer and educator for over 15 years. For more information, you can visit his website at or contact him directly [email protected].  

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