A mom of a client emailed the other day:
"I found this link to "real actual essays that colleges liked." I'm curious what you think! Most are very different than my way of thinking."
Before even opening the page, I knew what I would find. Great, well-constructed narratives offering insightful, pithy, and meaningful language to aptly and fully explain the exact nature of who the student is. I was right, and then I was irritated.
Here's my response to the fretting mom:
I read the essays, and they are what I feared they would be: super strong, interesting essays. Why is that necessarily bad? It's not--if your'e a naturally gifted writer. However, what if you're just a normal 17-year-old boy who thinks in images or in 3D? What if writing is torturous for you, and just getting the words on the page is fully exhausting?
The implication is that an essay other than literary perfection--complete with well-constructed metaphors and deeply humbling insights--will fall short of an admissions offer. This isn't true. While a well-written essay--such as the one by Max Amar-Olkus--can certainly help ameliorate other deficits, regular old essays can also gain an admissions offer too.
I worry that the stress of not living up to these perfect essays will keep students seeing their own stories and their own writing styles as less than. In fact, what particularly bothers me is that all of these essays are written in similar narrative styles. Where's the variety? Where's the difference in voice? Where's the juxtaposition of tone with content?
I realize I'm on a bit of a rant, which is certainly not aimed at you. It's aimed at all the books and websites that purport to give examples of essays that worked, but neglect to show less impactful or less well-constructed narratives that also worked. It's akin to looking at Vogue and thinking, "Gee, I'm a size 6 and too damn fat to be considered pretty." Vogue and these websites create an ideal that is set too high, which causes undue stress for the majority who will certainly miss that mark.
During my writing seminars this week, I showed the students intros from students' essays and then told them where those students went to college. The example really helped them understand the expectations, possibilities, and impressions--and lowered the anxiety as they realized that the essays they could actually write could still be considered admissions worthy.
So, what's the end-all here? Don't feel you have to be anyone other than the best you that you can be. If you're a great writer, then wonderful! Use this time and space to practice your art and shine. If you're a workaday writer who can craft logical, organized writing, then do that. You don't have to be a size 00 to be beautiful. You're fine just the way you are. It's going to be ok. Trust me.
A College Counselor who asks and answers the tough questions.