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. (more…)
At our local public high school in Laguna Beach, the English teachers assign juniors to write college application essays at the end of the year.
It’s a great idea.
For many students, this may be the only time they get any guidance on how to write these essays. (more…)
College Admissions Essays Must Be Interesting
How To Stay Bold And Avoid the Trap of a Dull Essay
After six years working with students, parents and college counselors on writing college admissions essays, I’m more convinced than ever that students must find their unique stories and tell them in a direct, authentic voice. These are the kids who are getting into the best schools.
However, a lot of parents, counselors and teachers don’t trust this approach.
I get it. So much is riding on these essays. Who wouldn’t want them to be perfect? The problem is that parents start believing that the essays need to impress the readers, and they get anxious and start stripping out all the interesting parts of their kids’ essays. They doubt that something as simple as relating a story is the best way to show colleges how great you are. As students writing them, you start to get nervous, too, and freeze up and start throwing in big words and mentioning your accomplishments and trying to sound really smart and before you know it you end up with a DULL ESSAY.
If you don’t believe me, read this column written by a columnist who writes regularly for the Huffington Post’s college blog. He reports that the word among college admissions counselors from last year was that they read way too many boring essays. And he has some great advice on how to avoid that. And it echoes mine: Tell a story. Write like you talk. Be careful who you let read your essay.
Here’s my advice for your college admission essay:
- Use you own logic. If you were reading hundreds of these essays, which ones would you want to read–boring ones where the student tries to make herself or himself sound really impressive, or the one that tells an interesting story?
- Read sample essays. See what ones stand out in your mind. Was it the boring one? Probably not. Try to copy the style and approach of the ones you liked the most–not the ones you think you were supposed to like.
- Now that you get what works, spend a little time trying to bring your parents up to speed. Talk to them about what you are learning and hearing about what essays are the most effective. Have them read some of my blog posts for themselves.
- When you are writing your essay, and you let others read it, beware of those who don’t get it and try to get you to take out the colorful parts.
- If telling a story for your essays feels like taking a chance, remember the real risk is a dull essay.
Ready to find your story?
Start with this post.
It’s the end of August and I can feel the tension among parents, and their college-bound seniors, starting to build. It’s great they are thinking about their college essays and future schools. But the rising stress levels can actually harm their ability to find the right school next fall.
I’m no college counselor, but as a parent of a college sophomore and a high school senior, I found a couple of guide books that helped me put the crazy process into perspective.
The first was called “Colleges that Change Lives.” (Click this link to go to their super helpful web site!) The author basically highlighted small liberal arts colleges that were under the radar and all had strong academics, a clear sense of purpose and a friendly student body. He was all about finding the “right fit” for students, as opposed to pushing them into the most prestigious school they could get into or afford.
Another book with a similar theme and balanced sense of mission is called, “You’re Accepted.” (Click this link to view short video of author-and yoga instructor!-Katie Malachuk, talking about the college application “journey.”) It’s about keeping a focus on the “whole-life” and overall “peace of mind” of students, and keeping the process in perspective for the long-run.
A third title, which I haven’t read but comes highly recommended by reasonable parents I know is called, “Harvard Schmarvard.” Again, it’s about finding the right fit for the student instead of worrying about what is the most impressive school to name-drop to your friends.
As promised in my last post, I will share how I start the search for essay topic ideas for my son, who is a junior in high school. The idea is to get some general ideas on our college essay radar. Just jot down areas of interests, activities, experiences, idiosyncrasies, etc. When he’s in a receptive mood (ahem!), I will suggest that he start his own list.
My list so far, written in about five minutes:
Band: French horn
Jazz band: Trumpet
Boy Scouts: camp, backpacking, community service projects
Volleyball: switched from tennis: JV team.
His blog on unusual/ethnic restaurants
Summers in New Hampshire
Costa Rica/Panama/Mexico/Europe family trips
From our lists, my son can start to think about the more specific experiences he has had within these areas as he gets closer to actually writing his essays (probably this summer). What we are looking for, however, are not stories of his general achievement (The Time I Climbed Mt. Whitney or How My Science Invention Won First Place or My Mission Trip to Costa Rica), rather we want to find the smaller, simpler stories (within those events) where he was challenged in some way, and learned and grew from that experience. You will be looking for those memorable moments: “Remember the time you…?”
Meanwhile, just keep your list within reach and add things when they come to mind. Again, relax. There are great stories and essay topics hidden within this list, and they will be in yours, too!
I began this blog when my daughter was a junior in high school and starting her college application process. Like a lot of parents and applicants, I thought she needed some amazing experience in order to write a fabulous essay. The good news is that I was wrong! In fact, I have learned, and now preach, that the most mundane topics actually produce the strongest, most compelling essays.
Now, my son is a junior in high school. So here we go again. If it’s helpful, I will share how I’m going to try to help him with his college admissions essays. It’s never too early to start these, but the reality is most kids don’t get cranking on them until the summer before their senior year, and many wait until later than that. (As with all writing, deadlines can be the best motivators.) My advice to parents and students is to just start thinking and brainstorming about possible topics now, and jot down general areas of interest and experiences that you want to mine. I will do this for my own son and share the process with you in the next post. (You might find it helpful to scroll down my blog and read the entries regarding topics, so you have a better idea of what we are trolling for.)
Remember, don’t work yourself up into a tizzy over these. Everyone has interesting stories to tell. Do your best to keep the pressure and anxiety level low. These aren’t that difficult. They do get done. And most are really good!