I’ve been an SAT tutor and college adviser for over 25 years. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of those timed SAT essays, and I presume the reason that colleges don’t accept them in lieu of an admissions essay is that not everyone writes his best essay on an assigned topic in 25 minutes at 8 . I certainly wouldn’t do my best work under those conditions. Some of the topics don’t spark the interest of some kids. Some kids need more time for reflection and revision. The more schools concentrate on timed on-the-spot essays, the more kids lose the ability to reflect, rewrite, revise, and edit. The college admissions essay provides an opportunity for more thoughtful students to take several stabs at an essay before choosing a topic to delve into thoughtfully.
As for others writing the college essay for students, kids come to me at all stages in the writing process. Some have a nearly-final draft and just want another pair of eyes to check for typos and punctuation errors. Others come with no idea what to write about, and others come with a few tortured paragraphs. I help them get unstuck. We brainstorm ideas based on what makes each kid tick. But I ALWAYS know when a parent has tinkered with an essay. Those essays tend to have the student writing about his accomplishments, things that already appear on the application. And they sound like they’ve been written by a 40-year old, not a 16- or 17-year old. I think I get students to reflect on what makes them unique. I tell students that if the principal read their essay over the PA system, everyone should know whose essay that was because only one kid could write it. Not all tutors write the essays for their students. The best of us help the students write the best possible essay themselves.