College Essay Review Service Comparison - Which of these 4 services is best?
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College Essay Review Service Comparison - Which of these 4 services is best?

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College Essay Review Service Comparison - Which of these 4 services is best?
Brad Schiller

I submitted the same essay to 4 different college admissions essay review services. The differences were shocking.

    Why the Burrito Essay embodies every student’s personal statement

    An essay referred to as the Burrito Essay has entered Prompt legend. We love this essay. Why?

    It so perfectly embodies what we see when smart, talented college applicants tackle the personal statement. Typically, nobody tells students what the purpose of the essay is. Nobody tells students what college admissions officers are looking for. And the result is generally a variation on the Burrito Essay. 

    The Burrito Essay was just more so. Let me explain. 

    The first draft of the essay was about a girl struggling to make burritos. That’s it. (You can look it over here.) It’s not a bad story, actually — at her job at Qdoba, the girl cannot master the burrito; she works hard to figure out why she’s failing; in the end, she masters it. 🌯🌯🎉 

    Good story arc there; vividly written with good pacing, but … college potential? No. The Burrito Essay failed as an application piece — it had almost nothing to say about the student’s potential for college success.

    Here’s the best part about the Burrito Essay, though. After 3 rounds of feedback with us at Prompt, college potential leapt off of the page. (You can see the final version here.

    By the end, the burrito saga wasn’t just about mastering burritos anymore. Now, that saga showcased the student’s problem-solving and teamwork skills, and made the connection between those skills and her extraordinary success in a different area of her life — an extracurricular program for which she was a team leader. The new essay showed that the leadership skills she developed through this burrito experience helped her increase her team’s test scores by 30% and get two teammates to make it to state finals. The final essay proved that this student isn’t just someone who says she can do something; she’s someone who gets results. 

    So, the Burrito Essay also perfectly illustrates what good coaching does to an essay. (Hint: it’s not grammar corrections and spell check.) Essay coaching is about asking the right questions and providing the right guidance to turn an essay into a showcase for the student’s ability to succeed in college and beyond — which is what admissions officials are reading it for in the first place. 

    TL;DR — Most services (other than Prompt) failed to tackle the Burrito Essay’s massive content problem. 

    Guess what it takes to turn an essay that’s literally only about getting burritos not to leak shredded pork into an essay that shows a student is going to be a star on a college campus?

    The answer is to focus on content

    Yes, this seems obvious. If you bill yourself as a college essay coach and you get an essay about burritos and you don’t say anything about having the student show how the burritos connect to their college potential … that would be bad, right? 

    Well, it’s bad out there.

    Of the three services I tried, none (that’s 0) offered substantial feedback on the content or structure of our beloved Burrito Essay. (We link to the feedback of each service below so you can judge for yourself.)

    To put it another way, I was looking for coaching and feedback — I wanted advice on how to improve the essay’s content and structure to make it compelling to admissions officers, along with feedback on basics like grammar, flow, readability, and clarity. 

    Instead, I got editing and proofreading — the services didn’t worry about content or structure; they just focused on finding grammar errors and sometimes commented on wording improvements. To be fair, two of the services did make some comments on content, but as you’ll see below, they were extremely superficial. 

    What I found by submitting the same draft 650-word Common App Essay to 4 services

    In order from Worst to Best —

    EssayEdge — Absolutely nothing on content

    Easily the worst of the lot, EssayEdge sent a number of in-text suggestions. Only four were helpful grammar changes; the rest were subjective edits for clarity. (See full EssayEdge edits here.)

    In terms of substantive feedback, they had only one comment for me. I’ll let you judge if you’d find it helpful or not: 

    This was the EssayEdge feedback on our "burrito" college essay.

    • Positives: None.
    • Negatives: Their advice focuses only on minor grammatical mistakes. It doesn’t help you improve content, structure, or clarity. You’ll think your essay is in great shape even when it is not.
    • Verdict: Don’t waste your money. 

    TopAdmit — Lost interest half-way through

    Just like EssayEdge, TopAdmit sent a number of in-text grammar corrections and suggestions for clarity.

    They did go further, however, including a short summary with specific suggestions for improvement. Unfortunately, none of those suggestions tackled how my burrito story might relate to my approach to academics, extracurriculars, or life. 

    In fact, the suggestions all focused on making sure I didn’t inadvertently come off as arrogant as I described my Qdoba job. And to be fair, the coach was right to zero in on problems such as seeming to judge my own client:

    TopAdmit's feedback on our "burrito" college essay.

    She was also right that I didn’t want to come off as judging the Qdoba job itself as somehow “beneath” me: 

    TopAdmit's feedback on our "burrito" college essay (continued).

    But what’s amazing with this second comment is that her “fix” for the classism or snobbery that might have come through in the essay was to remove all mention of how I was doing in school.  


    The problem with the first draft of the Burrito Essay is that it doesn’t connect the Qdoba job to school or other aspects of the student’s life. Cutting the slight reference that the essay does make to school activities is utterly misguided. 

    Things actually got worse, though. 

    As the document continued, it’s possible that the editor lost interest in critiquing the essay because she stopped giving feedback at all. In the last half of the Burrito Essay, the author struggled to tie the burrito lessons to larger lessons — you can tell she’s getting at something, but you don’t know what. 

    For example, the Burrito author wrote, “Working for the answer is more enjoyable than having it automatically given to me … How can I adjust my teaching so people understand what glomerulonephritis and projectile motion are.”

    But the TopAdmit coach didn’t ask me (meaning the student) to elaborate on why I was talking about glomerulonephritis (that’s an inflammation of the tiny filters in the kidneys, by the way), or what I meant by “teaching,” or how the burrito saga had influenced my academic or extracurricular trajectory. 

    Instead, I got this:

    TopAdmit's feedback on our college essay started off OK and went downward in quality fast.

    That’s right. She offers feedback on the first 2 paragraphs, and then, for the last 3, I just get a “Well done.” (In total, I got 3 “Well done-s.”)

    • Positives: The in-text edits were fine. The feedback on the first 2 paragraphs included good suggestions for not sounding inadvertently arrogant.
    • Negatives: The editor suggested cutting the one parallel between burrito-building and academics that was in the essay. The editor apparently stopped giving critical feedback on the last 3 paragraphs. The editor made no suggestions and asked no probing questions to get the essay to say something about my potential for college success. 
    • Verdict: Expensive. Superficial. Not thorough. I can’t recommend it, though it’s better than TopAdmit.

    WordVice — One good insight, repeated 6 times

    WordVice was a slight improvement over TopAdmit. Like the other two, my coach sent me in-text edits (you can see them here). Like TopAdmit, there was also a summary with improvement suggestions — this time it was a 1-paragraph letter followed by a rubric (you can see them here). 

    The letter got right to the crux of the issue with the Burrito Essay:

    WordVice's feedback on our "burrito" college essay.

    The advice is spot on. And yet, it’s not particularly helpful.

    First off, three times in a row, it repeats the insight that the “burrito” part or the essay needs to be shorter. (“the anecdote went on for a bit too long ...” “if you reduced the anecdote to a single paragraph ...” “I really like the burrito analogy … However, I think that devoting more space to describing yourself …”)

    More importantly, while it suggests good directions to take the essay (give a “glimpse at you, your passion, and your goals” and “describing yourself and what you want to achieve in college and beyond [to] demonstrate ambition”), it doesn’t say much about how to get there. 

    The rubric that followed the letter was just over one page and — hilariously — it also repeated the fact that the burrito anecdote was too long exactly three times (in the 1st, 2nd, and last boxes). There were no other suggestions for improvement, however. Also, there was no additional guidance on how to expand upon the “passion” and “goals” piece that the coach wanted me to add in. 

    • Positives: The letter zeroed in on the major problem with the Burrito Essay — too much burrito, not enough college potential.  
    • Negatives: The letter was superficial and repetitive. It didn’t have practical advice for how to actually improve the essay. 
    • Verdict: The feedback on content and structure was too superficial to be of much use. As a glorified grammar-editing service, $130+ is pretty expensive. 

    Prompt — Now, that’s a makeover

    Ok, sure. But it’s easy to be critical. 

    Now it’s our turn in the hot seat. Let’s go back about 2 years and turn the spotlight on how we at handled the Burrito Essay. (You can see the feedback here.)

    Like TopAdmit and WordVice, we gave a written summary of suggestions along with in-text edits. Unlike any of the other services, however, our in-text edits had no grammar or clarity suggestions — in our process, the first round is generally too early for that level of detail. Rather, the edits are content/clarity suggestions, for example:

    Prompt writing coaches provided feedback on content and clarity, not just spelling and grammar.

    In the written summary, the feedback was divided into Content (~1 page) and Structure (~3/4 page). The Content started by saying the essay needs “to help your reader learn more about who you are:” 

    Just like WordVice, we suggested cutting down on the amount of space the burrito anecdote takes:

    Then we segue into questions for the next draft:

    And even specific ideas for what the next draft might do:

    Finally, in the Structure section, we specifically spelled out what to do with the extra space the student would have once the burrito anecdote was shrunken down. For example: 

    In all, the burrito student came back for 2 more rounds of feedback (3 rounds in total). On the second round, we still had plenty of content and structural feedback, though this time they fit on just over 1 page. The in-line edits were a mixture of content edits as in round 1 and grammar edits.

    On the final round, our written feedback was down to one paragraph, while the in-line edits were mostly grammar-related (with a few structural/content notes still interspersed). 

    More importantly, by the end of the process, the Burrito Essay told a stellar story of a student whose struggles with a service job helped illuminate her extraordinary skill at leading teams to master complex medical concepts and excel in competition.

    The student got into UC Berkeley, Cornell, Michigan (LSA Honors Program), Vanderbilt and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill off the strength of the final version — unsurprisingly, given how the final essay showed her as hard-working (driven), a great team leader (contribution), and not just smart but intellectually curious. (See our post on the 5 traits for more about why this matters.) 

    • Positives: The feedback is primarily focused on content and making sure the essay will impress admissions officers. The coach gives the student clear guidance for how to make significant necessary improvements. 
    • Positive: You can message the Prompt team at any time with questions during your review.
    • Negatives: Getting to a great result required going back 3 times. Rather than writing an essay alone, the most efficient way to use is to schedule a video call with a coach before starting a draft ($150). It’s double the review price, but it can save a lot of time and angst. (In fact, it can also save money because going back for feedback from the same coach is an additional $75 each time. 
    • Verdict: Prompt is easily the best choice. Prompt coaches provide actual essay coaching. The feedback is comprehensive, easy-to-follow and leads to a much-improved essay. The pricing is also substantially less than other options. Students who purchase essay coaching packages receive feedback on brainstorming, video coaching calls, support with outlining their essays, and written feedback on each draft of all essays included in their package.

    In summary: 

    Seek out a college essay coaching and feedback service – not just an editing and proofreading service. Get help with your college essay today.