From Magazine Editor to College Essay Expert

How a professional editor transferred her solid skill set to a new career path

by Emily Listfield
Photograph: Emily Listfield

Like so many parents, I suffered through the college application process with a mix of anxiety and anticipation. My daughter, fiercely independent, wanted to handle it all on her own (except for the 16 schools we toured!) and I respected that, even if it meant biting my tongue at times. But when it came to the all-important Common App essay, it drove me nuts that she wouldn’t show it to me. Yes, she’s a fantastic writer BUT this was my area of expertise. After working as the editor-in-chief of a magazine, penning countless essays for publications from the New York Times to yes, More, and publishing seven novels, I figured she’d let me help. (Let me stress: Help, not write it for her.) As a writer, I know how valuable another set of eyes can be. Instead, my daughter turned to her SAT tutor, her creative writing teacher, anyone but me….until two nights before the essay was due. And guess what? Though it was beautifully written, I saw what the tutors and teachers had missed - the essay lacked the crucial point at the end that would tie her thoughts together. It was a quick but important fix. (PS: She actually said thank you. PPS: She is now enrolled in the Ivy League school of her choice. I’m not taking credit, she did that all on her own - I’m just saying.)

I began to help all of my daughter’s friends with their essays. (Along with the Common App, many colleges request additional writing samples.) Here’s what I found: Even the most brilliant students freeze. They try to fit their entire lives into one essay. They can’t figure out what to write about. They have no idea what tone to use. And here’s what else I discovered: I truly love helping each kid find his or her unique voice and story.

After doing a little research, I discovered that while there are a ton of SAT tutors, advisors, and others to help in the ever more complicated (and stressful!) college application process, no one was specializing solely in the essays. At the same time, while I continue to love writing for magazines, I wanted more control of my career. It was perfect: A hole in the market that just happened to fit my exact skill set. My entrepreneurial spirit kicked into high gear just as my daughter was heading off to college. (Funny how that works.) I started my own business: The College Essay Expert. Now I work with kids all over the country on their applications. And in helping them tell their stories, I’ve reinvented my own.

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First Published Mon, 2012-06-18 13:12

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