Friday, April 30, 2010

Casady's College Map of YES

Above is what I like to call the College Map of YES!!!

This map celebrates the 250+ college acceptance letters our seniors received from 100+ schools.

Perhaps my favorite statistic this year is that our Class of 2010 applied to 30+ schools that Casady students have not applied to before.
This demonstrates an openness to excellent colleges that fit our student's passions, learning style, and interests that are sometimes neglected by the new's media.

During a time when many schools are disappearing on the radar screens of colleges because of greater regionalization, Casady is showing up on new radar screens. Casady's name, in other words, is getting out there, and more and more colleges are discovering the par excellence of our students simultaneously as our families are discovering the college's par excellence.

To see the entire college YES list for the Class of 2010 - click here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Myths and Misconceptions of the College Essay: Writing to Reveal Part 7

In closing, I have discovered that student's often have a "Pavlovian dog-like" response anytime I say essay. Immediately students want to knock out their thesis and organizing principle, arrange their supporting details, and frame every point within a 5-paragraph form. This shouldn't surprise us, I guess. From September to May, they are in analytical writing mode. Whether it's character analysis of John Proctor in The Crucible; or color symbolism in The Great Gatsby; or the iconic power of the Mississippi River in Huck Finn; students feel comfortable with this form. The college essay is, however, meant to be something entirely different. It's meant to involve a character - you, the protagonist. It's meant to include a symbol loaded with personal meaning. And it's meant to contain an image that sticks in the readers consciousness like Velcro. In other words, the college essay is meant to be a story that contains a treasure within - a latent literary power within - for the admission officer to discover.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Myths and Misconceptions of the College Essay: Writing to Reveal Part 6

Myth #5: My essay has to be perfect.

College admissions people know you are not Michelangelo.

Your essay, therefore, doesn't have to be a David-like sculpture that embodies American perfectionism.

Colleges know you are 17 and 18. They know you a work-of-art-in-process.

College, in fact, is meant to be a part of the sculpting process.

What colleges then are looking for are the raw materials.

The clay that can be molded into a form of beauty.

The best essays, then, don't strive for perfection.

They simply aim at being personal.

The kind of personal that you get to in a conversation over a cup of coffee.

The kind of personal that reveals what pumps and roils and churns within your heart's chamber.

The kind of personal, in other words, that taps into your lifeblood.

Frederick Buechner, perhaps, said it best: "Good writing is really quite simple. All you have to do is have the courage to open a vein."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Myths and Misconceptions of the College Essay: Writing to Reveal Part 5

Myth #4: A personal story should be easy to tell.

Sociological studies show that 90% of daily conversations are couched in narrative language. All of us, in other words, are natural story tellers. We are most comfortable with a rhetorical framework that includes plot, theme, rising action, character, protagonist versus antagonist, climax, and denouement. It's the lingua franca of coffee houses and salons.

The romantic fallacy then we so easily succumb to is believing that a personal essay should involve a spontaneous narrative burst. That's how it works, for example, over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. That's how the romantics - Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge - did it. That's what the existentialist, like Kierkegaard, called the phenomenon of "authenticity".

The truth is though that to write a truly lucid personal sketch will require immense perspiration. Making the shift, in other words, from person-to-person (aka. Starbucks) to paper-to-person (aka. Common Application) is hard work. In fact the paradox here is that capturing an epiphany - an instant flash of revelation - almost always involves a long, arduous process. There is draft after draft. Rewrite after rewrite. Rewording after rewording. And just when you think you've got it - now lop off another 10-15%.

In the end, a good story is one where the reader doesn't have to sweat. It should be easy for the audience to take the journey and discover the truth. But the journey for the writer is always an uphill battle against an antagonism of forces.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Myths and Misconceptions of the College Essay: Writing to Reveal Part 4

Myth #3: I can't write about common topics.

Sports. Music. Travel. Missions. Grandma.

Too often our students feel like they can't write about topics that are too often wrote about.

In his book, Writing about Your Life, William Zinsser exclaims, "Write about things that are important to you, not what you think readers will want to read...Readers don't know what they want to read until they read it. If it's important to you, it will be important to other people."

Thus I say to my students...

If overcoming an ACL injury to return to the gridiron is important - then write about that journey of relearning how to chop step, cut, swivel, switch directions on a dime, make a linebacker tackle air.

If changing the oil every 2,000 miles underneath your metallic silver Tahoe is important to you - then write about the thrilling texture of crude black oil underneath your fingertips.

If cruising Broadway on a Friday night with the girls and belting out Taylor Swift is important to you - then write about the joy of singing off key out your window into the hot July night.

One of my favorite Southern novelist, Flannery O' Connor once wrote, "Every good story contains a moment of grace."

Grace, at its fundamental level, involves a gift.

The goal then in telling any story is to try and get to that gift.

Maybe the gift then is not in scoring a touchdown as much as experiencing a kind of rebirth.

Maybe the gift is not so much in changing the oil as much as connecting with one's father and feeling his "wink" of approval.

Maybe the gift is not so much in the song as much as it is in simply having someone to sing with.

Stories, in the end, that resonate within all of us, are stories about moments of grace.

Where something surprising,

and totally unexpected,

and completely transformational

quietly or dramatically touches us.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Myths and Misconceptions of the College Essay: Writing to Reveal Part 3

Myth #2: I have to tell the college what they want to hear.

Norman Rockwell's painting, "Girl in the Mirror", comes to mind.

This painting captures the tenuous nature of transition in life.

Here is a girl between bud and blossom.

Between her last doll and her first date.

Between childhood and adolescence.

She's alone somewhere in the house, probably in the attic, where she can be honest and vulnerable and real.

A magazine lays open her lap. A picture of a movie star stares up at her.

With her hands cupped gingerly against her chin, the young girl looks pensively into the mirror. One can only guess what she's thinking about. I surmise it has something to do with her past. And future. And whether or not she has that "star" feature, like the glossy woman in the magazine. And whether or not she will be accepted by the big, adult world out there.

Too often, I argue, our students think their essay has to be a mirror that reflects back to the college the kind of "movie star" personality that the college is searching for.

I have to sound cultured. worldly. sophisticated. erudite.

I have to look sharp. bookish. totally put together.

But the truth is that most colleges really aren't looking for a singular type of personalities.

Of course colleges are looking for bright, motivated, caring, and hard working students.

But all of those qualities come bursting through a student's transcript, resume, and teacher recommendations.

In the essay, however, colleges are asking, Would this student both contribute and benefit from our community?

Because in the end colleges are learning communities. Thus colleges are looking for a plurality of personalities. With different stories. And backgrounds. And voices. And perspectives.

That's what makes a learning community hum and pop with life, energy, and possibility.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Myths and Misconceptions of the College Essay: Writing to Reveal Part 2

Myth #1: I have to cast myself as the hero (aka The Superman essay).

Often students feel a pressure to use their essay to strip off their "ordinariness" and flash their heroic "S" to college admissions folk.

Undoubtedly, all teenagers struggle with a sense of identity. At 17 and 18 years old, we are all still trying to figure out who we are.

As a result, many students try to mask insecurity by projecting a titanic personality into their essay.

I started a school in Cambodia.

I revamped the Stuco system.

I hit the game winning shot against Heritage Hall.

So often student's fail then to understand that what the admission reader wants to connect to is the student's humanness. Not their superhumanness.

I learned my Cambodian alphabet from a six year old with scabs on her feet.

I served 600 pancakes in four years while on the Stuco leadership team.

I watched as my fall away jumper rimmed in and out as the buzzer sounded.

These are the stories that endear us to the reader and forge that connective tissue.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Myths and Misconceptions of the College Essay: Writing to Reveal Part 1

Mark Hoven and I had an opportunity to present at our annual GPACAC (Greater Plains Association of College Admission Counselors) conference in KC last week. Our presentation's title, "Myths and Misconceptions of the College Essay: Writing to Reveal".

Essentially this presentation was a distillation of what we will introduce to our seniors this summer during our college essay workshops.

Mark and I began by demystifying the essay's audience. Often times students broach the college essay thinking they are writing to an audience that looks like this guy.

A J.R.R. Tolkien type. Someone who wears a rumpled blazer. And smokes on a pipe. And lives among musty, old books. And peppers conversation with Latin phrases like "sine qua non".

This is the kind of person, I clarify with my seniors, you will write for in college. But not to get into college.

So who is my audience?

Someone more like this.

That's one of our Vandy college officers. His name is Chris. But I like to call him "JT" (aka Justin Timberlake). Believe it or not, most college admissions officers are far closer to a senior's age than mine. Like you (the senior), JT text messages probably 500 times a month; has a Facebook page; likes Taylor Swift's music if not has a crush on Taylor; and if you were to drop a one-liner from Wedding Crashers or The Hangover, he would probably laugh and retort with a one-liner himself.

What is important to remember is that 85% of the 3,000+ colleges and universities in the U.S. admit more than 50% of their applicants. That means that the majority of schools out there are looking for a reason to accept you as opposed to a reason not to accept you.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vandy Fly-In

This last weekend I got a chance to attend a Vanderbilt fly-in event with 98 other counselors from around the country. It was my first time to both Nashville and Vandy. I couldn't have asked for better weather on the day we toured the campus. I was struck by the grand, colonial-style buildings with the red brick and white pillars.
Time magazine did a feature article on Vandy's new Commons. These living quarters house freshman and faculty. It's a bit of a social experiment to try and create a deeper sense of community among the students and professors. It's not "uncommon" (no pun intended) for students to watch ESPN game day on Saturday morning in their PJ's with their professor of sociology. One minute they are talking SEC football. The next they are talking about racial and socio-economic issues.

I had a chance to sit in on two classes. The first was a Modern Philosophy class. The lecture was on the Enlightenment Project, specifically the theological movement called deism. What I loved about this class was watching the students. As I watched this young man go from typing notes, to checking his Facebook, to shopping for a new polo; I realized that Vandy kids aren't that different than Casady kids.
The Vandy highlight for me was visiting Dr. Baldwin's class, "MLK and the Role of Social Religion". Dr. Baldwin's lecture unpacked Dr. King's metaphor of the "global house". I was reminded once again that, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
This is one of our Vandy officers. I called him JT because he looks like Justin Timberlake.

Admissions this year to Vandy were BRUTAL.

Here are a few statistics.

Vandy admitted about 38% ED.

Vandy admitted overall only 17.5%.

Cornell admitted around 17%.

Vandy is quickly becoming the "Ivy of the South".

Ten years ago Vandy admitted 60%.

My oh my. How times have changed.

Many assume that Vandy favors legacy student applicants.

This year 2,300 alumni kids applied to Vandy.

Only 22% were admitted.

So what I learned was this: if you want Vandy, you jump on the Early Decision Train.

Otherwise you better have an ACT of 34 and high (or SAT equivalent) in regular admission. If you don't, you just aren't getting into Vandy.