Conquering The College Essay

There is a lot that excites me about working with bright, ambitious young women and men, but one thing that definitely races my motor is when one of my students manages to take a layered approach to his or her essay. In fact, I usually help steer them in that direction, as I love layered essays, but once they get the idea, they generally run with it. Thats how excited they are by it.

The way my students usually come to this layered approach is through the exercise of answering the exploratory questions that appear in my book, Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps (which, by the way, just came out in its second edition, so make sure you buy the red one, not the now obsolete blue one). These questions are far-ranging and when I get them back from a student, we go over them together and look for interesting relationships between them, powerful juxtapositions, and so forth. A few years ago, I had quite a brilliant student who answered these questions for me. To the question, What has been hardest in your life?, she spoke about the fact that her father had developed a degenerative muscular disease within the last few years. To the question, What have I worked at the hardest?, she described the very prescribed motions she has to go through in equestrian competitions. Suddenly, a powerful juxtaposition presented itself. Here was this person who has dedicated so much time to practicing these extraordinarily prescribed movements and then Wham! Chaos (in the form of disease) entered her life and threw asunder all knowable patterns . Her essay, in which she described executing these prescribed movements in a competition while internally processing the reality of her fathers illness, helped gain her admission to Princeton.

Can you come to this kind of layering on your own? I think so. Get the book, answer the questions, and then put those answers side-by-side and see what you come up with. Its not easybut give it a try.