Common App Essay Help Needed!

<p>Any advice for a new poster? D has hit the wall on the common app essay. She needs to meet an early action date of 11/15, and her school requires proof that all parts of app have been received before they will send the transcript.</p>

<p>The essay is all that she has left to do. Unfortunately she is just completely burned out on the process. She is a very good writer, but she just doesn't seem to get what this is about. She chose the question about a creative work that has influenced you, and what she has so far sounds like a very flowery book report. She can't seem to place herself IN what she is saying. She is discouraged and keeps saying that she is just going to send it in the way it is. I'm asked her to talk to a teacher, but she is doing a post secondary thing and schedules are a problem. I need some way to show her --fast-- just what these are supposed to look like. I'm sure you all know how negative and stubborn kids can be when they are at the end of their chain, so if I bring home another essay book it may be the last straw. Does anyone have an idea? Should I just leave her alone? I feel this could jeopardize what is an otherwise good application.</p>

<p>November 15th is three weeks away. She's clearly thought about the essay, just hasn't gotten it together yet. It might help if she drops it for a week or so, maybe tries a different prompt after that time. My D wrote bad draft after bad draft, then sat down with a completely new topic, and wrote a fabulous essay---the morning of 11/15. (She wrote about her brother, incidentally. I still enjoy reading it.)</p>

<p>We finally set a deadline for my son, with the warning of dire consequences if he missed it. We had to be very specific - 6:00pm Satuday, 2 to 3 pages, 12 pt font, double spaced. When he had something written we read it over - with an eye towards making sure it actually told something important ABOUT HIM. There were places where I said, relate this to yourself here, or, give a real example from your life here, or, tell elaborate on how this changed you here...Then another deadline for him to make those changes (some of which he rejected - OK). Then it went to an English teacher for final proof. The result was OK, but it wasn't easy.</p>

<p>I know the feeling well. Both my Ss hated to discuss their reactions to readings, preferring instead to do book reports.
Ask her to set aside what she has written so far and start brainstorming with a totally different creative work in mind, for example, a movie, a painting, a song, a piece of music, a poem and ask her to describe to you what the work makes her feel and think about, why she likes it, and so forth, rather than what it is about. It will help put herself into the essay.</p>

<p>Well, my daughter right now is perfectly happy at UIUC as a freshman. Last year, she ended up not applying to Duke because it had "too many darn essays," and not applying to ivies and several others because "I'm not taking the SAT II's, I'd rather have root canal on a Saturday than take another stupid admission test." She did all her essays on her own (usually at the last minute) and I was allowed to check only for spelling or grammar, and not permitted to comment on content or theme. She was admitted to every school to which she applied, including Northwestern which she decided against attending in favor of UIUC.</p>

<p>Yours is a common issue parents face and the answer is not easy. It sounds like she has reached the point where she wants you to "butt out" but won't put it that way. You say she is discouraged with her current essay but that may be because she thinks it is fine but you are saying otherwise. I personally just decided to allow mine to control the applications; actually I did not decide that, I just had no other choice.</p>

<p>It's funny, Marite, when she TALKS about what she wants to say, I feel that the work she has chosen jibes beautifully with her overall "message". When I see what she has written, aside from wanting to barf, it seems so general, so cliched...maybe this is the wrong prompt. I know she chose it because she HATES talking about/selling herself. Ah, she is just at that stage where the lower lip is pushing out and the sighs and tears are not far behind. College app overload.</p>

<p>I agree with Marite about choosing a different work. Also, tell her not to write an essay. Just freewrite about the idea of what she likes about the artwork. Don't try to make it an "essay":don't worry about intros, or paragraphs, or even sentences, or anything related to form. Just try to get random thoughts about the subject down on a piece of paper. Then, put it away for at least 24 hours. Have her give herself permission to not think about it. AFter that, take it out. Look for at least one idea tht seems to stand out in her written thoughts. Try to use that as a starting point for an essay (and anything else in the freewriting which might also look useful.) If she still can't do it, repeat the process, using the one good thought she pulled out, as a jumping point for another page of ramblings. There is a good chance, that, following this method, eventually, an essay will emerge.</p>

<p>Good luck to you; sometimes this part is more stressful for the parent than the student!</p>

<p>I feel your pain. We are in the same place. I had resisted mightily reading DD's essay, but she came to me very upset, becuase one of the adults who did read had made strong suggestions that she could not incorporate into the essay. I finally broke down, read her essay and it has been downhill ever since.</p>

<p>Try this - "Why did you pick this book?" Answer - "It's my favorite book" Ques - "When and where were you when you realized that this was your favorite book?" "Why is it your favorite?" - Write this answer in one sentence, maybe that will get her started.</p>

<p>I honestly think this may be the wrong prompt for her, but if you are the same place we are, she may kill you if you suggest that! Perhaps a casual sugges - "Write a paragraph about something else"</p>

<p>Haha, Drusba! We hear many of the same things here about additional tests, etc. That is why I really want her to take this to her trusted english teacher. I told her initially I would only read and comment on the outline, but she keeps bringing things to me for approval. I think the advice to put it aside for a while may be good...but if I could show her one good essay for a prompt like this so that she could get a feel for the format, I think she could go on to complete it. She is just too crispy right now.</p>

<p>Whoa...I feel your pain on this one!! It really stinks when they wait until the 11th hour to turn out an essay when they aren't used to writing them. It seem that the more simple topics make better essays. A poster on here gave my son some great advice - "if you wouldn't say it, don't write it"'s such an easy concept that will go a long way with helping to keep the essay away from the deadly essay sins of imagery, rhetoric, waffle words, complete sentences, long paragraphs, etc.</p>

<p>I had a funny conversation with on of my son's teachers. He was telling me that the kids in his class are so well trained and so used to working hard that they often do "too much" with their him way more than he needs or wants. </p>

<p>I think the some of the kids try to do too much with their essays. Then again, some of the essay topics lead them down this path of complexity.</p>

<p>So true, Momsdream: </p>



<p>She is definitely getting lofty. I think she is at all costs trying to avoid having to write a "how my illness/misfortune/charity work/travel/athletic endeavor/relationship enlightened me and changed my life" essay. </p>

<p>Your advice is good. Maybe if she reels it in a bit it will be salvageable.</p>

<p>You said: "when she TALKS about what she wants to say, I feel that the work she has chosen jibes beautifully with her overall "message"</p>

<p>She might try tape recording herself talking about what she wants to say; different ideas and different ways of expressing those ideas. She could then take her own words and organize them on paper. Sometimes it helps to "talk out" what you want to write.</p>

<p>Looking at a few college essays may help her too. This book seems to be popular among the kids and parents here: "On Writing the College Application Essay" by Harry Bauld.</p>

<p>Wow, thanks parents. Your stories, especially Drusba's, have given me hope.</p>

<p>My son's problem is that he very reserved by nature, and doesn't feel comfortable expressing himself in an essay. Getting out the essays is worse than pulling teeth - it's more like orthodontia: slow, painful, and with minute, but measurable, improvement. He may have to take a gap year just to finish his applications!</p>

<p>The good news is that she IS coming to you for feedback and though she is anxious to just be done with it, she does value another's opinion.</p>

<p>The college essays are very difficult to write because they are UNlike the kind of essays students normally write for school. They need to be narratives about THEMSELVES, which is a difficult thing to do. </p>

<p>In your daughter's case, she may very well have written a great essay had it been for SCHOOL. Tell her that. Praise it as an essay that is about the book, and well done. But that is not what the colleges want for the application. I agree with you that it would help your daughter to read a college essay with a similar type of prompt (someone who influenced you, or a body or work that influenced you) to see the TYPE of essay that is being asked for on the application. There are some sample essays in Harry Bauld's "On Writing the College Application Essay" and also some in Katherine Cohen's "The Truth about Getting In". I find that reading sample essays really brings home the point of what this type of essay calls for. </p>

<p>Then I would discuss with your daughter that the essay really should not be ABOUT the book she read. That is a jumping off point to an essay that will show something about HER. I would have your daughter brainstorm some attributes/strengths or traits about herself that she is hoping that the admissions committee will learn about her. Then pick one or two of those "points" about herself that she hopes to convey. She should then pick a book (or other creative work) that she can use as a starting point to then get to a story about herself that brings that characteristic out. For instance, let's say your daughter wants to get across that she is someone who beats to her own drum and doesn't follow the crowd. If she knows a piece of literature where there is a character like that, then that could be a starting point to her essay where she then relates a anecdotes about her own character, so by the end of the essay, the reader has learned something about her. She needs to SHOW this, not explain it. That is just one example of a "trait" but apply anything about your daughter that she hopes to "sell" about herself. So, the essay is not truly about the book she read but that she uses that book to get to what she really wants to show about herself in the essay. </p>

<p>I think your daughter still has time left where it is not a do or die deadline at this point. If she is willing to turn her essay into this type of piece, yes, it would be good to then have a second reader. Ask that second reader if he/she can infer what the "trait" or characteristic about your D is that she was trying to show about herself. The reader should be able to describe your D at the end, not the book she read. </p>

<p>See if you can discuss this approach with her a bit. What this means is that her essay may be a very good essay but just not what colleges are looking for. They want to learn about the applicant, as opposed to getting an essay that is literary analysis. </p>



<p>I think that "reserved by nature" might just be more common among boys. My son attends an all-boy school, and I can't tell you how many times they have stressed to us to encourage our boys to start the essay early. (Can you IMAGINE working in the all-boys school's guidance office - yikes!) It just doesn't seem to be a format (talking about themselves) that many boys are particularly interested in. </p>

<p>Last year they had to hand in college essays for English and the teachers graded them "accepted," "wait-listed," or "denied." Several weeks after I remembered it I asked my son how his was graded. He reported "waitlisted" and immediately turned back to whatever he was doing. I asked if I could read it, but he had trashed the file right afterwards. To him it just wasn't a big deal. It was like any other homework assignment. (Hence the imposed deadline.)</p>

<p>I suppose it's some combination of procrastination, disinterest in the project, and general laziness...I don't know. But when I hear on this forum the STRESS some kids subject themselves to over this college thing - well, I just think they don't have a very accurate perception of the world (ah, youth). In some way I have pacified myself with the thought that they will get into the college they deserve. And that is NOT a bad thing! Just to save my own sanity (I have a life too for cryin' out loud!) I have cut back on "helping" a LOT. I gave him a chart of his deadlines and now expect him to come to me instead of the other way around.</p>

<p>My son submitted his first application yesterday (on line). While he was doing it he was playing euchre (on line), watching a football game, and IMing someone occassionally. Suddenly a great multi-tasker (not).</p>

<p>I just wanted to let you know that you've done good for other kids. I teach a writing course and have changed a pair of major assignments because of the comments I've read on this board about how the kids don't get enough practice writing essays that demonstrate a trait of their own. I can see the truth of the matter particularly well because I also have a son in the application process. At least my students will be better off because you all posted about the problems you're going through with your kids. (and me with mine!)</p>

<p>S is also applying ED. He promised he would write his essay over a three day weekend ten days ago. He had read Bauld's book and knew what he wanted to write. His essay was centered on three "bullet points" that added depth to two of his ECs and his decision to attend a private college prep school instead of our local public HS, from which most kids go on to community college. His AP English teacher will return it to him today with comments. I think his essay fulfills the purpose: it puts a human face on the statistics on the transcript. It shows a sense of humor. It won't win an essay contest, but it's exactly what the adcom is looking for.</p>

<p>ezduzzit- last year my son, who is a prolific and creative writer, got very stuck on his common app. essay. What he wrote was formulaic and just not him. To get unstuck he wrote what he wanted to say (an entirely different message) as a poem...We actually tossed around the idea of using it as his submission (and ultimately did for one of his safety schools). Ultimately the counselor decided this would be too risky, and my son turned it into prose form. He just had to get out of the mode he had been in, and this was what it took. In the case of your daughter, I agree with the poster who suggested she think first of the trait or event she wants to portray, and then find the character or book that works. Alternatively, maybe she can "just for fun" write to one of other prompts and see if she gets unstuck.</p>

<p>With one exception(state u fincancial safety), our son used the CommonApp for all his applications and did them all in one day! We never saw or read anything. His essay was about his teeth(which are not perfect-incisors are a bit askew) and his attitude toward perfection. There was a mispelling(;-)) and a few grammtical errors which we pointed out after the fact. His reply-they just have to think of them as a literary device!! He was 6 for 6 with his acceptances.</p>

<p>Advise your daughter to make it an intensely personal statement and to think a bit out of the box. Her first time behind the wheel, picking apples, standing in line at Disney World with an embarassing dad could all be fine topics worthy of 500 words.</p>

<p>If colleges really wanted to make the essay truely personal works I always thought that ETS could play a great role. Give the applicants 45 minutes to write an essay based on 1 of 2 UofChicago type topics. All ETS would have to do would be to email jpeg copies of the essay to the schools applied to. The colleges would have the raw, uncoached work of the students. And the students would be done with the essay in 45 minutes!</p>

<p>"when she TALKS about what she wants to say, I feel that the work she has chosen jibes beautifully with her overall "message"--I've been pre-empted on suggesting this idea, but I really like the idea of a tape-recorder. And, though it seems simplistic, D's essay was much too formal and restrained when she was using the computer, so she came up with the idea to write out her ideas in longhand as a way to ease up and have it sound more natural--she's used to writing "in her own voice" in a daily journal, and it helped immensely.</p>