Aerial view of a complex, winding highway system.

Are you having that nagging feeling that you’re lost right now and need to ask for help to complete your college application? You may be onto something!

2020 has been a busy year—to say the least. These days, your brainʼs bandwidth is probably occupied by a million issues, internal and external. As a result, you’re struggling to find yourself in the right headspace to properly navigate your application to college.

It’s OK! There’s a lot to figure out. Let’s look at how you can make this work—with a little extra assistance.

Do You Actually Need Help?

A neon “The Journey Is On

First, let’s acknowledge that you need to be engaged in this process. You’re planning your life and your future. Applying to your dream university should be enough to motivate you. Otherwise, how will you cope as a college student with a million academic, cultural, athletic, and social activities to juggle?

That said, while the road to college itself is fun, it is also long and winding. But a helping hand along the way might just put this journey back on track.

When Should You Recognize That You Need Help?

A person in a yellow jacket looking at two roads.

Trust your instinct. There is no right or wrong here.

Maybe all you need is one word of encouragement from a friend. It could be that you’re still not sure which university or program you wish to apply to and need to talk to more people. Perhaps you need someone to help you proofread the application. Similarly, you may need another pair of eyes on your CSS Profile.

In the end, if something does not feel right, look right, or sound right, ask for a second opinion. If you are unsure about terminology or process, ask an expert for help. It does not matter if you have just opened the Common Application or if you think you are ready to submit it. As a rule, do not let these doubts linger.

Whom Should You Approach?

A crowd of people at a yellow crosswalk.
People You Know

There are a lot of potential helpers around you, at your school, in your family, or in your extended support system.

Maybe you are a first-generation college applicant and arenʼt sure if your family will be able to help you. I believe they will be delighted to see you taking these first steps! Despite not having gone through the same journey, their support will mean a lot—even if it’s just listening to you rant away about completing tedious forms.

In addition, other connections in your network may be very experienced, like a school counselor. Learn here how to work best with these specialists.

Finally, don’t forget your peers! Many of your friends will also embark on this college adventure. For this reason, sharing your concerns with them is a great way to find renewed motivation. They might go through similar ups and downs—maybe you can help them too!

People You Don’t Know

Don’t forget that we at NYU are also here to guide you through this. Many applicants are afraid to contact admissions counselors directly because they think it will paint them in a bad light. As a result, they donʼt reach out at all and struggle in silence. But it is literally in our own interest to read stronger applications! We want to help you get there. You can certainly email us:


In addition, I recommend researching which community-based organizations will suit your needs or are active in your area. There are too many external organizations worldwide dedicated to facilitating college access for me to list here, but a quick Google search should help.

“Should I Pay for a Private Counselor or a Professional Agent?”

This is a complex question. There are wonderful experts out there who will assist you well in this process. That said, always remember that you should receive guidance—not an offer to write your application for you, unrealistic embellishments to your application, or false promises or guarantees.

How to Ask for Help

A busy street with a person holding a green “Go” sign in the crosswalk.
Clearly State What You Need

Identify the exact areas you need support with and do not deviate. College applications are undoubtedly complex and you don’t want to go down the wrong rabbit hole.

Figure Out Who Knows What

Once you’ve clarified your issue(s), do reach out to the most qualified helper first. Need a pep talk? Family or friends will be there for you! Need expert guidance on choosing an essay topic? Maybe your school counselor is more qualified. That is not to say that these roles are noninterchangeable. Still, people will be more inclined to assist you if they feel they can contribute in a meaningful way.

Give Others the Right Tools

Do make it easy for the other party to help you. For instance, they should not have to create accounts, log on to complicated websites, or rummage through pages and pages of documents (outside of the CSS/FAFSA forms) to figure out how to support you. First and foremost, accessibility is key.

Be Aware of Time Constraints

If your application deadline is January 1, don’t ask for guidance on December 27! In short, give yourself, and your support system, ample time to properly manage the situation.

What If They Cannot Help?

Itʼs OK! Remember how busy you are right now? They are too. In the end, it’s better if they’re honest about it now rather than stringing you along a dead-end road.

What Should You Mostly Focus on by Yourself?

A dancer smiling in midair of a New York City street.

To start with, you need to put in some research. If you can easily find the answer to your question in one click on our web page, then this is where you should acquire the information first.

Most importantly, your personal statement and “Why NYU?” essay should be completely in your own voice. If someone else offers to write them for you, ask yourself: Do you want NYU to admit them … or you? But, can you ask for help in terms of choosing a topic or proofreading? Of course! However, we are looking for YOU in these essays and you should be writing them. Remember, “personal” is literally in the name.

Finally, Remember That ... YOU. WILL. BE. FINE.

A happy man holding an umbrella and jumping in the middle of a road.

Millions of students experienced the same journey before you and succeeded! You got this.

Lisa is a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for NYU Abu Dhabi and the Global Admissions Team, based in the London office.
Born and raised in France, Lisa also lived in Denmark and spent a couple of years in leafy upstate New York.  She is a dedicated gardener, a keen traveler to India and Japan, and loves watching the tennis at Wimbledon. She now spends her free time playing with her little rescue terrier dog, Cooper.