Tuesday, December 11, 2012

@UVADean Eyebrow Raiser!

I call it the C.A.E.I.

I'm guilty of it.

You (the parent) might be too.

It's the result of a conundrum, really.

If I don't do it, the student's application might turn into a paper airplane.

Destination - the deny bucket.

But if I do do it, then I risk taking something away from my student.

The feeling of authenticity.

And personal ownership.

And the idea that the college journey is the student's journey.

But nevertheless, more often than not, we succumb to the C.A.E.I.

My favorite dean recently tweeted out a possible C.A.E.I. violation.

It's the College Application Editorial Impulse.

It's one thing to edit out a typo.

A misspelled word.

An upper case word that needs capitalizing.

But it is another thing to shape the story.

Or to pepper the essay with octosyllabic, SAT, Ph.D.-level words where a small, ordinary, Joe 6-pack set of words would suffice.

Or to imbue the essay with little poetic touches.

Like a nice sounding simile.

Or silver tongued metaphor that would make Scott Fitzgerald bow a knee of reverence.

Or worse - turn a self-effacing moment in the essay into a self-triumphal moment.

Where instead of the student revealing themselves to an admission officer.

They end up packaging themselves.  

Nevertheless, I try my best to resist the impulse to edit the student's voice and style and worldview out of the essay.

There is, no doubt, a lot at stake in the college essay.

But to write the essay for the student, or to write the student out of the essay - in the long run it will do far more harm than good.

My hope is always that the whole college process is self-reflecting, self-revealing, and self-validating for the student.

The essay or essays is just one way that the student is able to reflect, reveal, and invite the reader to get to know them in an authentic way.


Almost every dean of admission out there shares a common desire to see students reveal the true self.

Here is one example from the dean of admission at Princeton.

Here though is my confession.

As an English teacher, I'm conditioned to want to improve the quality of content in a student's work.

But in the end, this is not my essay.

It's not my application.

It's not my journey.

So I'm trying to do a better job of correcting the typos, grammar gaffes, and punctuation errors, but not tampering with the animating core of a student's essay.

So I guess I am a recovering C.A.E.I.

I need tweets like @UVADeanJ to keep me on the road to full recovery.

All of us do - don't we?