Helping Students With College Essays Shouldn’t Cost Parents an Arm and a Leg

Feb 2, 2018 12:00:00 AM


Anyone who has worked in a school can tell you that students can be tonic for the soul. Without realizing they are doing it, they pull us out of ourselves—our lousy morning, a bad mood and even a really bad hair day. It is impossible to be focused on oneself inside a school because it is such a dynamic place full of kids who somehow morph into this magical combination of smart, unsure, funny and brutally honest. I am now in my fourth year working away from a school building and that means that my opportunities to spend time with students are far more rare and therefore special. This week was no exception. I had the privilege this week of working with five former students—who I had in class as eighth graders—on their college essays. The group happened to be all girls. As the mom of three boys, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how much [pullquote position="right"]I totally loved having some girl time.[/pullquote] Just to be in a room without anyone bouncing a ball (or talking about their “balls”) is pretty blissful. And then, for our time to be spent poring over their writing? I might as well have stopped by heaven. Each young woman had written an essay that was deeply personal and provided a window into their lives. And while each of them was grateful for my help and ready with a big hug and a "Thank you Ms. Sanzi," the truth is, the time we spent was a gift to me. I had the opportunity to see these beautiful young women putting the final touches on their college applications four years after teaching them as middle schoolers. I got to read their personal statements and grow in my own understanding of the challenges and triumphs that fill up the lives of the young women who were born almost 30 years after I was.

These young women were not born into privilege or wealth

Most, if not all, of these young women will be first-generation college students. They are bilingual. And hardworking. It was an honor for me to have a second opportunity to play just a small part in their journey to college. Before working in schools that are considered “high poverty," I worked in a school that was one of the wealthiest public high schools in the country. Predictably, students there needed help with their college essays, too. While English teachers were quick to help with college essays, it was also common practice for parents to hire someone to help with the college essay and even with the entire college application process. This whole college counseling phenomenon has quickly become a booming high-priced industry in wealthy communities. In fact, when I used to teach, college essay help was listed as a high-priced item at the annual junior class auction (and still may be today though I am no longer in the loop on that.) A teacher or two on the faculty would offer up a set number of hours of college essay help as an auction item and parents would bid on it—all the money raised was used to fund the junior boat cruise, the school’s version of a junior prom. The going auction price in the late 1990s for this writing help?  Six. Hundred. Dollars. (The auction used to raise over $80,000 in one night.) Things will be a bit more right with the world when students whose parents can’t buy them $600 worth of writing help can still access the same support in achieving their dreams. If I can be tiny part of leveling out the playing field, then I consider myself blessed. So thank you ladies for the opportunity to soak up some girl time, help you with your writing and share some high school laughs. I loved every minute of it. And I am so very proud of all of you.
An original version of this post appeared on Good School Hunting as I Had the Best Time With My Former Students This Week: Girl Time, College Essays, and Lots of Laughs.

Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting fellow.

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