These days, it seems some parents are willing to do whatever it takes to get their kids into what they think is the “right” college.
For example, they may suspect the college isn’t playing by the rules, either — such as accepting legacy students over someone who might be better qualified, he said. Also, if they think SAT scores aren’t a good indicator of a student’s ability, parents may convince themselves that the college is using a broken metric, he said.
In fact, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans thinks the college admissions process is “generally fair,” according to a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll of 1,000 registered voters. Of those surveyed, 67 percent said it favors the “rich and powerful.”
Before you even think about writing your child’s essay, whether it is a couple of sentences or the entire thing, remember that colleges are looking at them to understand the student and are not seeking the most polished writing, Sklarow said.
“If an essay sounds like it is written by a 44-year-old professional woman, it is not going to read like it was written by a 17-year-old boy,” he said. “It is going to be an essay that doesn’t capture the admission office.
“They’ve become pros at it,” Sklarow added. “They can tell what’s being written by a teen or parents or uncles or friends.”
Schools can also rescind an admission if they determine the student wasn’t truthful or accurate on the application, he added. Yale University just rescinded the admission of one of the students involved in the admissions scandal. The University of Southern California also blocked students linked to the scheme from registering for classes and getting their transcripts.
Writing your child’s essay can also hurt the very person you are trying to help.
“What they are saying to their child is, ‘I don’t trust you to speak for yourself. I’m going to do the talking for you’ and that’s a terrible message to send,” Bright Horizons’ Heaton said.
So, what is appropriate?
Sklarow said students should get all the help they can in figuring out the topic of the essay.
“They should get help without a red pen getting involved,” he said. That can mean reading an essay and offering advice on how it can be improved.
The bottom line: Think about the appropriate school for your child, which may not necessarily be an Ivy League institution or the most selective college.
“There is so much evidence that where you go matters so much less in terms of your career than what you do once you get there,” Sklarow pointed out.
And remember, your kid is perfectly capable of doing their own applications.
“People have been getting into college since college existed,” Heaton said. “They have gone to school for 12-plus years.
“They can do it if you let them take control of the process.”
—CNBC’s Emma Newburger contributed to this report.