Mark Your Calendar!

I will be giving a free talk on Writing the Personal Essay on Tuesday, April 29th at 7 pm at the Arlington Central Library in Arlington, VA.  Everyone interested in writing is welcome, but my remarks will be directed toward those writing essays for college or high school applications.

Hope to see you and please spread the word!

NO. VA. Teen Book Festival



Lately I’ve been wearing my essay coaching and freelancing hats most days – at least publicly – but I’m happy to be appearing as the Young Adult author of Forget-Her-Nots (Greenwillow/ HarperCollins) at the inaugural NOVA TEEN Book Festival on 3/8 in my home town of Arlington, VA.

Check out all the details here. I’ll be a on a “breakout panel” at 1:00 pm with the wonderful Elizabeth Scott who is, ironically, allergic to flowers.  (I’m almost gave her an allergic reaction at the Baltimore Book Festival!) And I’m signing books at 4 pm.

Hope to see you there!  (And, yes, I’m still writing fiction.)

Socrates and the College App Essay

True Confession:  I was a Great Books major; ergo, one of my favorite quotes is from Socrates.  “The unexamined life is not worth living,” he said at his own trial.  I frequently share this quotation with my students in essay coaching sessions.

Why?  Because I want my students to see that self-examination is a major point of the college essay.  While college admissions officers certainly look at scores and grades and recommendations, they ultimately want to know that the applicant is someone who has experiences and learns from those experiences.  You might be the youngest person to have climbed Mount Everest, or you may have tutored lepers in India, but if you didn’t learn anything about yourself and the world, those experiences are meaningless.  If you can’t articulate who you are and who you want to be, your essay won’t be meaningful or convincing to a college admissions officer.

Applicants to college aren’t expected to have all the answers, but they should be able to pose important questions they’re not afraid to ask, such as why is my life worth living?  What do I value?  What valuable skills or attitude or aptitude will I bring to this college?

Writing an excellent college application essay is a truly introspective process.  Not only do the applicants have to choose a significant story, accomplishment, or place, they also have to share how that experience reverberates through their lives.  They need to examine their lives past, present, and future.  I am always happy to share the timeless wisdom of Socrates.


A Less Stressful Senior Year

autumn-leavesWhew! I had a lot of students who made the Early Action/ Early Decision deadline on November 1st.  We were all very relieved.

However, the most relieved and relaxed were their parents, because they had one less battle with their senior.  When it’s your son or daughter’s  final year living at home, the last thing you want to be doing is fighting over the college essay or telling them “it’s not quite there yet.”

When I coach, I do a lot of encouraging, but I also speak truth to my students.  If an essay or short answer needs a rewrite or some tweaking, I make them do it.  If that last line isn’t quite right yet, I ask them to try again.  If a point isn’t crystal clear, I ask them to clarify it.

And they do it.  Why?  In part, because I’m not their parent.  They take my comments seriously, because I know what I’m talking about, and they know that, too.  Rarely have they had someone take their writing this seriously.

My last round of students learned a lot about sensory details and the power of anecdote, about verb consistency and hooks, and about coherence and unity in an essay.  They’ve also learned that good writing is a challenge that they can meet.  I’m so proud of the wonderful essays my students wrote, and I know the admissions officers will be wowed, too.

Common App Glitches

admission imageLike the rollout of so many new or revised products, the latest version of the Common App has experienced lots of glitches.  (See this recent article in The Washington Post for an update.)  All of this is occurring with the early application deadline of November 1st looming.  While a very few schools have extended their early deadline, it’s best to be prepared.

I just sent an email reminding all the students I coach to send their early applications in a few days before the November deadline to avoid tears and hair pulling. Chances are that the Common App system will be overloaded on 11/1, so it’s best to be prepared.

As they say, the best defense is a good offense.