Have you ever ordered a double scoop of ice cream, only to regret it? The scoops start to melt, the flavors blend together, and you lose the distinctive deliciousness of that singular bite of pistachio or coffee (my favorites). College essay advising is like that: Double-dipping can make a mess of the whole process.
Just ask Jordan (not his real name). When I started working with him, he’d already completed a couple of essays, and they were quite good. But as he began submitting new essays to me, I noticed both the content and the writing were nowhere near the caliber of the essays he’d written before he started working with me. I found Jordan himself endearing, but the process was painstaking and frustrating. After multiple drafts, I’d tell Jordan an essay was done, but several days later he would often send me another draft, with new material. He seemed stressed out and unsure of himself.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from a colleague who is a full-service counselor. One I highly respect and also consider a friend. She told me she was reviewing one of Jordan’s essays and saw my comments in it. It turns out Jordan is also her client. Jordan was working with BOTH OF US!
Here’s what happened. Jordan’s well-meaning, loving mother only wanted the best for him. So she figured she would cover all bases by double-dipping, hiring both a full-service counselor and an essay advisor (me). Two helpings are better than one, right?
Ask for more opinions, and you’ll simply get more opinions, leaving you no closer to a final decision that reflects YOUR own preference, personality, and authenticity. Jordan is not a stellar writer, but his writing is appropriate for an 18-year-old planning to major in a STEM subject. After input from too many adults, Jordan’s essays started losing their distinctive flavor, the delightful quirks of Jordan’s own writing and thinking. They were overly polished. More importantly, by hiring a “team of handlers” for her son, Jordan’s mom sent a message to him: “You can’t do this on your own. You aren’t good enough.”
Dearest parents, please do not do this to your child. Jordan was put in a position of having to hide the fact that he was working with two of us. A scoop of pistachio (me) was being plunked atop a scoop of (gasp!) strawberry, and the combination got messy. This isn't the first time a student of mine has double-dipped. Most often, I realize that a parent is writing or editing the essays. But I have also had students tell me at the 11th hour that they "decided to revise the essay one more time," and give me something wholly unlike the previous draft, clearly touched by another professional. I have no issue with students letting a parent or school counselor or friend review the essay and making a few minor changes. But too often students, and their editors, cross a line.
I do this work because I adore my students, and I want to help each of them tell their best story. Because I sincerely care about Jordan, I told his mom I would continue working with him as long as he agreed to have each essay reviewed by only me OR the other counselor, not both. But I also emphasized that Jordan will land where he belongs, and that having a “team of handlers” to tailor his application is unwise from that standpoint. And, in this competitive and unpredictable process, he needs to feel that he is good enough, no matter where he applies and gets in.
I know Jordan’s mom acted out of love for him and the anxiety that all parents (myself included) feel in this nerve-wracking process. I forgive her and completely understand. But, for the record, moving forward, I will be asking all of my students if they already have a separate college counselor. In the wake of the college admissions scandal, and in a community where our children are already privileged, I do not care to be a member of a "team of handlers" for a student who is going to go to college with or without my help. My students need to choose a single scoop of essay help. No double dipping. Pistachio, I’ve learned, is best on its own.