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Barbara's Virtual Pen

Working with Students on College Essays

I adore helping students with college application essays, and I still sometimes do that when a friend or colleague asks me to work with their child or friend's child, etc. What I really find fascinating is helping these kids discover things about themselves, things they had no idea would be of interest to anyone.

There was the student with the rather average academic record despite one parent being a doctor and the other a lawyer. At first he stated that his only interest was sports, and I helped him with an essay on that. But in talking about his interests, it turned out that he had started an investment club with a group of friends; he had convinced them that by putting their money together, they could invest it and make more money. What is astounding is that they did (or rather I think he did since he did the actual investing). At a time when most people were losing money in the market, this group of kids made money! What a story.

A young woman had her family worried, because she had been diagnosed with childhood diabetes the year before. She had been having a difficult time adjusting to her new status and the precautions, rules, and care she now had about her health. The family already stretched thin because of all the extra attention that was expended on her older brother, who was autistic.

She sounded so dis heartened on the phone; it seemed she felt she was so ordinary and talentless that no decent college would want her. In addition, sShe had no idea what she wanted to study.

I couldn't figure out how she could be seen as ordinary considering that she was taking a couple of AP math classes, working for organizations involved with diabetes research, and helping her 23-year-old autistic brother study for his bar-mitzvah.

She kept asking me, "Do you think they would think my essay at all interesting?" She didn't see herself as being at all special. Well, almost every school she applied to seemed to have a different idea.

These kids start out with a draft essay I tell them to throw it away, and we just start talking and finally get around to talking about what is unique about them. What they do or have done that is unusual in some way. Then I tell them to do another draft, and the work begins.  Read More 
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