Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Damn Essays: Major Cause of Application Woe

Never has so much been written about roughly one page of single-spaced sentences. Never has such a relatively short writing assignment -- maybe 250 words or so for some questions on a supplemental app to 500 for the Common App essay -- inspired so much fear and dread. In the entire college application process, there's little else that brings out the worst in parent and child.

It's late September, and the hope of having a solid first draft, or even a completed essay, remains on the to-do list of many seniors.

But don't be too censorious. Do you think you could easily write something that enables a college to know who you are -- and also what you will bring to the college? Something that's authentic, truthful, helps the applicant stand out (in a good way) and could conceivably tip the scale in getting you into dream college? The thought makes me feel queasy.

So how can we encourage our kids to get going, or get polishing, or get the essay to a respected reviewer (an English teacher, maybe, or a family friend who gets what the essay is about.)

First, they've got to get stuff on paper. Here's a useful and funny essay on first drafts by writer Anne Lamott. Take a look at it if only to read the title.

And they need to think like a storyteller, as Hollywood producer Peter Guber suggests. I think his points are valid for essay writers, even if he wasn't thinking of high school seniors when he wrote this.

Finally, here are comments from an admissions officer at a major university. I featured her thoughts two years ago, but the information is timeless - and worth repeating.

Good luck and godspeed, kiddos and their parents!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Confessions of a Parent of a Senior

When I started Mom's College Cram Course about two and a half years ago, the concept of college admissions was still theoretical.

Our daughter was finishing up freshman year and I wanted to start learning about what it takes to get into college today. The closer she has come to participation in the actual application process, the less eager I have been to write about it. Now it's personal.

There have been times recently when both daughter and husband seemed ready to do an intervention with me. As my teen said, "You are a good mom, but the college stuff is making you crazy." Or words to that effect.

As a friend pointed out, maybe it's just my way of dealing with the fact that our only child will be leaving the house in less than a year. It's easier to nag about college deadlines than it is to tackle the feeling of loss that will surely surface.

But meanwhile, the process must go on. Our teen is using some days off in September to get organized on what is needed for each school, to see which colleges recommend interviews, and to determine if she wants to look at a few more options. It will be a heady mix of Naviance, essay writing,logistics and old-fashioned soul-searching.

Meanwhile, the countdown on standardized testing begins. October, SAT. November, another subject test. And then, not another No.2 pencil exam till APs in the spring.

As for senior year, classes and teachers look good. That driving permit should be in her hands soon. Flute lessons start again tonight and she's happy about that.

And I have made our daughter one promise. I may not be able to help myself on some of the nagging from now till the end of the year. But I will let her alone second, even earlier. She can take her January midterms without my hassling and complete her last few months of secondary school without Mom annoying her.

I trust her to do the right thing, and always have. It's just that my ability to keep the faith has gotten a bit porous during the run-up to the application process. I've apologized on this issue before, and will likely do so again in the next several months.

But in truth, I know that all will be okay. That things will work out just fine. And that my temporary insanity will recede.