My brothers and I never imagined there was a better typist in the world than our mother. And now, as I hunt and peck a page or two a day of this book, this recollection, this disclosure–this complete and total exposure of the last decade of my life–I’m even prouder of what she could do between chasing us down to wash our hair in the kitchen sink and thumbing through the Sears catalog for fresh pairs of Toughskins the August before every school year.
Despite the fact that an “introduction” is the beginning of a traditional American academic essay, it’s really the conclusion a writer has come to based on a study of the text, so it only makes sense that a student should write it last. And thanks to the word processor, there’s no longer a need to write from beginning to end anymore.
My first instinct as a reader is to listen and discover, but to be able to find a commonality (or a contradiction) in a long-held philosophy I’ve had about people, or to imagine how in the world I could possibly survive given the same situation, is what makes reading fascinating and personal to me. Reading has helped me to find out more about myself than anything else I do. The sensibility I bring to the text, my beliefs and my prejudices, are what help me form a kind of truth about myself, and many times it’s a hard truth. But that’s what I think makes literature beautiful.
Too many writers throw metaphors into an essay without regard for how the objects used in the metaphor relate to the content and pattern of the essay. “It sounded good to me,” they’ll say. There’s nothing wrong with writing what sounds right to your ear. You should love what you write and be excited by it, but be ready to let go of what doesn’t work in the revision stage.
As much as a student would like this to be an isolated rhetorical situation, it’s not. Their rhetorical situation occupies a pile of applications with thousands of other rhetorical situations. Harvard University received 43,330 applications from the college class of 2023. Each one of those is a rhetorical situation.
The clay for the essayist, for the purpose of my comparison, is the rough draft. It is difficult to convince young people that the essay they have come to know through their academic experience is, indeed, a piece of art because art takes time and practice and a patient process. To be fair, students don’t have the luxury of treating these assignments as art when they have seven or eight classes in a day, homework, extra-curricular activities, family.
I’ve assembled a few notes on the college application essay, inspired by students I’ve worked with recently. I’m no expert on the formula for unlocking the door into the Ivy League, but I’ve worked with enough brilliant students who’ve struggled with writing this document to feel confident that the advice I’m providing could be successful. […]