Summer Essay Coaching

red tulips istockThe earliest college applications aren’t due until this fall, but you can get started on your personal essay and get a jump on the process.  Most of the schools you apply to will accept the Common Application, and so you have the 2014-2015 essay questions in hand.  (They’re unchanged from last year, and you can find them here.)

It may only be April, but I’m already scheduling summer coaching sessions.  Remember that if you work with me, we meet face-to-face for about two hours, and then the rest of our sessions are online.  I’ll give you a questionnaire to complete that will help you to brainstorm for the essays, and there’s no need to write anything before we meet.  In fact, I don’t want you to write anything until after we meet.  Once we talk, you’ll have a much more complete picture of what college admission officers are expecting and what you want to write.

With tough classes ahead, more SAT/ACT testing, and college apps to complete, the first semester of your senior year is going to be intense.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have that personal essay written before the first day of school?

And, don’t forget, I’m giving a FREE presentation on “Writing the Personal Essay for College Apps” at 7 p.m. on April 29th in the auditorium of Arlington Central Library, 1015 N. Quincy St, Arlington, 22201.  Hope to see you there!

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.