Privileged Information in College Essays

When a student comes out to us as a member of the LGBTQ community, we will always keep their secret (photo credit: Derrick Smith).

Each and every year, we work with a batch of students and parents navigating the highly selective college admissions process. And while we of course care deeply about our students, it’s our parents who are ultimately our clients. This, at times, can leave us in an unenviable position — notably when we’re told something from a student that they don’t wish to share with their parents. We are most often placed in this position when a student comes out to us as a member of the LGBTQ community but hasn’t yet come out to their parents.

As members of the LGBTQ community ourselves, we understand more than most that coming out to one’s parents is a deeply personal matter. It should not be rushed. It has to be done naturally, when the time is right. And we don’t — in any way — wish to encourage a student to rush this process on account of their case for admission to our nation’s elite colleges. So when a student comes out to us, we don’t share that information with parents. Their secret becomes our secret — forever.

That being said, as a business, we are beholden to our clients: the parents. And a lot of our work is in revising college admissions essays, in helping shape teachers and the counselor letters of recommendation, in prepping students for college alumni interviews, and more. We CC our parents on all emails with students, including on the revisions we send to admissions essays. So what are we to do when an essay focuses on the student’s LGBT activism or their coming out?

Here’s what we do: we tell the student that her secret is our secret and we will not share it with her parents or anyone. But her parents are our clients and they need to see our work product. We then suggest telling her mom and dad that there is something personal in some of her essays that we’ll be sending only to her and not to her parents. We will send revisions of essays that exclude those lines. If an essay focuses predominantly on the subject matter, we will only be sending that essay to the student.

And then we hold our breath and hope that’s all ok with the parents because, if it’s not, we’re in some pickle.


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