College essay anxiety calls for reinforcements


By Jordan Freisleben and Sade Tavangarian


Even after taking the three day Essay Writing Workshop this summer, taught by deans and a former college admissions officer, Toby* felt he needed help.


“Essays are the main part [of the applications],” he said. “They can make or break it.”


Toby, like a number of other seniors, has hired the services of an outside college essay counselor.


“[The workshop] only talked about topics to write about,” he said. “[The counselor] is able to tell how colleges will interpret what I write: how to tweak what I write so they can understand what point I’m trying to make.”


“I think the essay workshop Harvard-Westlake offers is really effective for students because it involves a lot of people who know about essay writing, specifically catering to Harvard-Westlake students,” Upper School dean Sharon Cuseo said.


Alexandra Dumas Rhodes, a college application counselor specializing in essay writing, has aided several Harvard-Westlake students with their college essays over the years.


“Students sometimes don’t take into account who’s reading their applications, how they’re reading them and what it is they look at,” Rhodes said.


Even though students have written essays throughout their high school experience, writing the application essays is a different process.


“I’m teaching [students] to write these emotional, autobiographical pieces, not like the analytical pieces that they’ve been taught to write in school,” Rhodes said.


“I encourage students to write from their heart: things that have moved them, made them grow, or shaped their character,” Brendan Hayworth said.


Hayworth is a counselor and tutor for Prep Squad, an SAT prep and college application advising company.


Hayworth and Rhodes both assure that by helping students with their essays, they are solely enhancing what a student has already written.


“I tell my students, ‘It’s all going to be you, always,’” Rhodes said. “It’s always the student’s work and the student’s voice – I teach them to grow [in their writing], like an author and a book.”


Although all deans read over students’ college application essays, Toby felt the need for another person’s feedback.


“Extra eyes are always a good thing,” Toby said. “I do think it’s very beneficial and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”


“I think it’s most helpful when you bring a dean into the process because they give the best perspective of what a student’s application will look like,” Cuseo said. “Going for outside help with essays and tutors are helpful for reviews, general writing tips, and proof reading because they know what makes a good essay.”



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