Essay requirements vary widely from school to school. The 150-plus members of the Coalition for College (which includes Harvard and Vanderbilt) requires a single 500-word essay selected from prompts such as "Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution." Those with eyes on the University of California system must write a whopping four essays, with prompts such as "Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced."
Students can reuse essays with other colleges if the prompts are similar enough—or if the schools happen to be members of the same application partnership—but you'd be surprised how seldom this occurs. My daughter found that out the hard way, when she learned that she'd have to write 12 separate essays to cover just five schools.
What's a kid to do who doesn't have parents who both work full-time as writers and editors? Just run their essay through Microsoft grammar check and hope for the best? Good luck. The acceptance rate at the University of Chicago has dropped 81 percent in the last 12 years. It doesn't take a Rhodes scholar to know that if you don't put your best foot forward, you may as well not even bother.
I Before E
All of this led me to the curious world of online editing services. While you can hire a consultant to help guide your child through this overwhelming maze, these consultants are expensive and much of their work involves managing the complex application process, figuring out which colleges are a good fit, and brainstorming essay topics. If you just need help whipping an already written essay into better shape, an online editor might be a better (and much cheaper) fit.
To be sure, some of these services are exorbitantly expensive. Services like EssayEdge and TopAdmit can run you close to $200 for editing a single essay of fewer than 400 words. I've seen prices as high as $379 after various upsells. Word for word, that's more than what my editor at WIRED makes. (Hi, Mike!)The good news is there are plenty of more affordable options available. I tested four of them, all reasonably priced and seemingly legitimate. Most of these services charge based on a combination of the word count of the original essay and the turnaround time required. I used the same raw essay from my daughter as a test piece for each of the four services, and requested the slowest turnaround time each of them offered to minimize the cost. I submitted her 383-word raw essay at the same time to each of the services, on a Wednesday afternoon. I gave all the services minimal guidance with my submission, noting only (when prompted) that this was a college application essay. All four of the services allow you to upload a Microsoft Word document and receive a red-lined and comment-filled Word document in return.
In interviews with WIRED, four Girls Who Code alumnae pursuing undergraduate degrees in computer science and one recent graduate described positive internship experiences including supportive work environments and mentorship from tech company executives, but also faced persistent messages that they did not belong and were not as suited to coding as men.