Wednesday, February 15, 2012

College Seminar #2: Essay Writing

Our second college seminar session focused on college essay writing. Our juniors got a jump start on the short and personal essay that the Common Application asks students to complete.

The overarching goal in both essays is for the student to tell a story about a "life moment" that is 0% boring to read and 100% revealing of a positive trait.

This moment can occur in a menial job task like cleaning toilets or digging tree holes.

This moment can occur in a pre-game ritual like eating mom's favorite pasta dish and watching Michael Jordan highlight reels (that was my pre-game ritual circa 1994).

This moment can involve a post-theater performance ritual like celebrating at Red Robin by sharing a Mississippi Mud pie among fellow thespians.

This moment could come in the aftermath of missing the last second shot. Or a moment after an embarrassing gaffe, like forgetting a key line.

It can be a moment of academic vertigo after getting back the D- on the Pre-AP Chemistry test, but how you didn't allow the center to implode, but worked tirelessly to re-align the stars on the next test.

Heck this moment could involve a hobby - something you love to do when you don't have to do anything.

My 5-year old son, Silas, for example, loves to create Mii characters on the Wii. This is one of his 20+ self-made Mii characters. He's created over 100 Mii characters, including exact replicas of every family member, including grandparents and cousins, along with his favorite teachers, friends, even movie characters (he has a Mii character for each of the Chipmunks and Chipettes - no joke).

Don't be afraid to drill down into quirky, creative, outside-of-the-box things you enjoy doing. This kind of essay can pleasantly surprise a reader, shatter stereotypes, and reveal little shining gems about you that shimmer long after the reader puts your essay down.

We also tell our students to aim for the 10-80-10 rule.

It's always a balancing act when you have a 150-500 word limit.

The key then is to try to get "into" your story in the first 10% of the narrative, journey "thru" your story in the next 80%, and move "beyond" the story in the last 10% in terms of providing an elevated truth, insight, revelation (epiphany), or future possibility.

There is no silver bullet to writing THE essay. The key is to tell a story you enjoy writing. If you enjoy the writing process, most likely your reader will enjoy the finished product.