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.