Senior year. A time filled with spirit days like Black and Gold Day, traditions like Grad Nite and most importantly, graduation.
But wrapped up in the midst of these moments – especially during the fall semester – many 12th-graders looking at life beyond Sunny Hills grapple with another challenging season: the inevitable college essay and application.
Class of 2021’s Kathryn Aurelio is all too familiar with this process.
Aurelio recalls last fall opening her laptop to a Google Doc to start typing up her college essay for the Common Application, an online application form used by over 900 colleges and universities in 50 states and 20 countries, according to commonapp.org.
But then immediately, discouragement set in. She found it difficult to motivate herself to start.
Like many of her peers in that situation, Aurelio says she turned to social media for advice, and after scrolling through accounts like @goharsguide on TikTok, the former senior remembers feeling confident about her writing skills.
“It was difficult for me to start as I was petrified of this college process,” Aurelio said. “As I procrastinated my college essay, videos on TikTok slowly offered sound advice and thorough explanation.”
Once Aurelio completed her essays, she sought reviews from strangers rather than from friends and family to gain a different perspective.
While she asked her friends for input on some aspects of her application, like the USC trivia questions, she preferred to ask strangers so she could be completely honest about herself.
“I looked at larger college tutors like Crimson [Education], but it was expensive, so I turned to social media and looked for people who would offer editing services on Instagram,” she says.
She went to a free consultation to explore Crimson’s services but realizing it was out of her budget, she came up with the idea to edit college essays.
Aurelio ended up submitting her Common App essay about “the intersection of my self-identity and body image by taking the reader through the process of creating a painting–a body portrait in green, yellow, and blue.”
She believes that her essay was a crucial component to getting into her dream school because she did not submit SAT or ACT scores. While she never had a singular dream school, USC and New York University were at the top of her list for their reputation in the entertainment industry and their location. Aurelio is studying public relations at USC.
From that experience, she decided, five months after submitting her applications, to start up her own essay feedback service and rounded up two of her former Lancer classmates to help her.
Called College Essay Gals, the venture uses the Instagram platform @collegeessaygals (100 followers) to promote their services and provide information for followers. College Essay Gals will go up against such established companies like Crimson Education and for the market share of those seniors who need the most help when it comes to college essay writing and applications.
Her partners for this business are her close friends, Anika Madan, who attends the University of California, Irvine, and Amaya Mitchell, who like Aurelio attends USC but is majoring in psychology. The three worked together to create their first post on June 25 to publicize their business.
“Stressed about college essays? We are here to help,” read their first post, which also included information about their background and the schools they were accepted to.
Like with much of their senior year through Zoom, Aurelio’s partners first found out about this opportunity virtually.
“[Kathryn] created a poll asking if anyone wanted to start this type of business, and I virtually raised a hand,” Mitchell said.
Their goal is to review and edit UC essays ($10 for one, $35 for all four), the Common Application personal statement essay ($20) and supplemental essays required by private schools ($10-$15), according to their Instagram, while also posting free advice and resources.
All essays are read by each member within a week, but immediate services are offered at a different rate. They decided to offer lower rates to make it affordable. After Aug. 31, prices will change to fall rates, and they plan to continue editing essays until February, since both Aurelio and Mitchel started school on Aug. 23.
“I wanted to provide and spread awareness of versatile resources — not just traditional companies — that could cater to students of all economic standings with [a heavier focus on the needs of] each individual,” Aurelio said.
Aurelio, Madan and Mitchell said they took Advanced Placement [AP] and International Baccalaureate [IB] English classes and were accepted into such institutions as Boston University, New York University and the University of California, Berkeley.
“I personally didn’t get any outside help, so I really know how time-consuming and exhausting the process can be doing it on your own,” said Madan, who will be attending the University of California, Irvine, for psychology.
English teacher Teresa McCarty, who taught Aurelio her senior year, Madan her junior year and Mitchell for both junior and senior years, said she is proud of this group’s efforts in creating this service.
“I am very excited about Kathryn, Amaya and Anika’s startup business … I love that they want to help the SH community by helping other students get into top-ranked colleges just like they did,” said McCarty, who plans on using their services for her daughter – a senior at El Dorado High School.
While applicants are not in need of their service yet, they are looking forward to helping as many students as they can. Their promotion plan relies on word of mouth along with following seniors to gain more attention and posting reminders for deadlines.
“I’m glad we agreed on keeping our prices low so that our services are accessible to more students since most college essay editing companies charge much more which may be out of reach for them,” Madan said.
The alumni are looking forward to helping students throughout their application process and are glad to be offering their help.
“I definitely feel confident and excited in helping students with their applications because I understand that writing about yourself can be extremely difficult, but if they are comfortable with sharing their story with us, they will hopefully feel more confident in sending in their refined essays,” Mitchell said.