A New Year and New Challenges

Usually, around this time of year, my mind is on things other than college admissions essays. This–and a vacation to Mexico–explains the lag time between my last post and this one. (That and a healthy dose of good ol’ procrastination too). I haven’t even weighed in on the changes in the SAT, but my feeling is that the written word and good vocabulary will always count for something so let’s just move on. Anyway, traditionally, the first three or four months of the year is when I focus more on my college marketing work–right now, I’m writing the viewbook for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute–and less on my college essay coaching. So far, however, the start to 2014 has been quite atypical as there has not been much of a hiatus on the college essay front. This year, I have had a significant number or transfers and students applying to graduate school, which has meant, in several instances at least, working with people who are fully adult (let’s say over 30).

The graduate school essay (and, to a lesser degree, the transfer essay) is less about coming up with some marvelously original concept, as you need to do with the Common App personal statement, and more about giving your life and your academic career a really smart retrospective and packaging. This is not easy for anyone to do, and I find  that a bit of narrative flourish at the beginning can really make a difference for the writer and ultimately for the reader (i.e. the graduate school admissions counselor). So, for instance, I had an adult student, working as a banker, who wanted to go into a top-notch international business program. We worked together to review his accomplishments and one of the things he was most proud of was creating a kind of microloan program at his bank. We opened up his essay with a one-on-one exchange with the recipient of such a loan, and that bit of narrative, which felt immediate and fresh and very human and related, was an excellent idea. The rest of the essay, which naturally covered his past accomplishments and his future aspirations, all went much easier once he got that narrative hook down. The upshot? Harvard has invited him in.

I’m very pleased to be working more than usual with this population–but very pleased too that I got that beach time on the Caribbean!