At the national college admissions counselors’ conference at few years ago a workshop titled “Who Wrote This Thing?” explored questions surrounding the authorship of college application essays. On one hand, everyone knows and accepts that any serious student at the least runs their essay by a parent, English teacher, or counselor. No one questions the importance of getting a second opinion on their writing. As I write this I write in some dread of my proofreader, writing critic, and spouse whose critical eye this will have to pass before another human sees it. I insist on it, just as I strongly suggest you let me coach you with your application essay(s) as most of you already have. What’s appropriate and what’s not?
Among the war stories shared at the conference was one of two students who sent the same essay to the same university. (Both were denied admission) Another admissions director told of a girl who left her application for her father to mail, and papa rewrote her essay and boasted to a golfing buddy of his cleverness. The friend, a graduate of the college being applied to, blew the whistle, and pop was scolded while his daughter was given a fair chance to submit the essay she thought she already had. (See, I told you this was a humane process.)
How much does the essay really matter? How much assistance is appropriate, and how much is too much?
First be assured that if a college requests an essay the admissions committee really does read it. The essay probably won’t be the single cause of your acceptance or rejection at a college of your choice, and yet you are correct in assuming that it does matter and therefore should be the best sort of answer you are capable of writing—one you can mail with pride thinking, “This is the very picture of me I wish to give, and this is one of my finest pieces of writing.”
The essays’ purpose from the colleges point of view-and this is the point of view you should consider-is two-fold: to see if you can indeed write, and to provide an opportunity to showcase you as a distinct individual beyond the data of your application, transcript, and test scores. This essay is your only opportunity, except for the interview to present yourself as a unique person and this chance is even more advantageous to you since you control the shots. You can show them the “you” you want to, in the way you have chosen to. In effect, this is where you may tell your story.
While this essay won’t take you off the top of the accept pile, nor will it move you from the bottom of the deny one, it will help if you fall in the “great gray area” the “muddy middle” where many applications lie. Then your essay becomes a factor for people to argue for or against your case. “Look at this essay,” they’ll say. “I like this kid. We could use a modern art fan, conservative republican Latin scholar, or assistant ice cream store manager and I think they can not only fit in but also make a contribution here.” Only this essay and your letters of recommendation (teacher evaluations and school summary statement) can give them a picture capable of enabling them to relate to you as a person rather than a statistic and believe me as much as they are sometimes driven by statistics most admissions people are in the field because they are people persons.
If you grant that the essay may be important, and you do see fit to make it the best one you have in you at this moment, what remains is to consider how I may help you. Let me help you as many of you already have.
Most seniors have met with me several times with an essay or two. A few are entirely finished by now. If you aren’t there yet, let’s get in gear now! We can talk any time or meet after school or on weekends. Call when you would like to schedule an hour or two. We may work on any phase from pre writing to rough drafting to final proofreading and polishing. I won’t lay a pen on your essay, but as a Fellow of the National Writing Project I may be able to help you discover the best essay you have. No, I won’t write it for you, but we can see how to develop clarity, to make appropriate word choices, to say what you want to in your best voice.
I’ll see you:________________________________________.
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