Maybe I’m just grumpy because it’s 90+ degrees in my garage office and I tweaked my back in yoga last week (while bowing and saying “Namaste” at the very end. really.) But I just received an email from a desperate parent that really sent me. It took everything I had not to give her a piece of my mind. Actually, I couldn’t take it and did give her a piece of my mind…
The good part of our exchange, which I will copy below, is that it gave me a reason to share a terrific article that I believe every parent, student and college counselor involved in this college application process should read. It was written by a former college counselor who was recruited by way-too-wealthy parents to help get their kids into the most select schools–especially to help them write their college application essays.
Lacy Crawford, who just published a novel based on her madcap experiences, is all over the media right now promoting Early Decision. Even though most parents are not nearly as obsessed as her former clients, I believe even the most reasonable and level-headed families can get sucked into the college application frenzy and lose their way. The cost of this pressure, especially to our kids, can be great, and risk inflicting emotional damage that can be impossible to repair.
Here’s one example of the potential harm from an article Crawford just wrote for the Wall Street Journal:
A hedge-fund manager rewrote his son’s application. The boy had been rejected early decision by the father’s alma mater. In his revision, the father posited that a community benefits from a range of individuals, the stars and the average people alike; and argued, in the first person, for the boy’s admission by virtue of his mediocrity.
Getting rejected didn’t break this boy’s heart. His father did.
You read her article and hear stories like these from other college counselors, and think, “Oh my God, who are these people? They sound like monsters.” But within the hour, I just received an email from a frantic mom. She may not be like some of Crawford’s crazy clients, but I certainly caught a whiff of her misplaced priorities. (I had originally shared her email here, but she contacted me again and told me it embarrassed her–even though she was not named–so I have removed it.)
To sum up her message, the mom told me she was “thoroughly depressed” and had spent hours and hours trying to find a topic for her daughter to address “the intellectual activity one for Stanford.” She said she sought help from professors and college counselors, but couldn’t think of a single intellectual activity that either she or her daughter had done. She called herself a tiger mom with a defiant daughter, and described their lives as “so boring.” She asked me to “take on the challenge” and call her.
I’m not calling this mom, but I did send her this reply. Yes, the heat and pain might have pushed me into saying some things I shouldn’t have, and usually I am very empathetic with frustrated parents. She ticked me off.
My students always asked me, What should I write about?
I’d answer: You are a student of the world. What is it that moves you? What incites you, enrages you? The first-person pronoun is a mighty tool. Use it.
I have had successful students write about the virtues of napping (Middlebury), failing a course (Harvard), and having to shoot a farm dog because it couldn’t work stock (Princeton). Once a student came out to me in his fifth (and best) draft. His parents probably still don’t know; but they got the Ivy Leaguer they wanted (Penn).
I no longer work with high school seniors, but my counsel can be distilled for much less than $13,000. Students: tell a story in your own voice. Speak an opinion with care and focus. Claim that “I” and write the hell out of it.
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Learn how to find and tell your story in my ebook guide, Escape Essay Hell!