My older son has ADD and OCD and if I leave him alone for more than 20 minutes he is likely to start staering into space. Or doing one of his million OCDism that he probably wouldn’t want me to write about even though I think his best bet at getting into college is doing some sort of experimental film thing about repetition and delusion. After all, colleges want to know what makes you different from everyone else whose applying.

The essay demands that you find your most interesting self.
OCD is actually really interesting because a person is literally delusional about how it’s imperative to do their OCD thing.  My son will only drink out of certain faucets. It’s fascinating to me that he will die of thirst before drinking out of the wrong faucet. When we moved from the farm I thought it would be different – like now all faucets are equal. But each time we move he makes new faucet hierarchies.

This would be a great college essay – if he could overcome the problem. Redemption is so appealing. Vulnerability is appealing as well, but it is essentially writing about all the hard stuff without the redemption. Which is much more scary to the writer. Though of course it would set you apart in a college essay.

The essay is intrinsically rewarding – no matter who accepts you.
Kids might not like how hard it is to write a good college essay. But kids love the idea that what they write will really matter. Stanford discovered that students care more about their writing when they have an audience that matters. In case you’re wondering, Stanford students don’t think their teacher matters. Social media matters, because there’s a big audience. And college essays matter because there’s big impact.

Ironically the best college essays are about time outside of school. 
School teaches you to be like other kids. Meet other peoples standards. This won’t differentiate you so you can’t really write about it in the essay. The hardest part about getting into college is not the grades — those are sort of a commodity. The hardest part is the differentiator. And it takes a lot of time outside of school to figure out what makes you special and what feels most true to you.

I would like to write my son’s college essay. I’d like to write everyone’s college essay. But the joy in the college essay is discovering what’s different about you and your experience or point of view or voice. We are each special, but it takes work to know how. And that’s the most rewarding type of work we ever do.

10 replies
  1. Sheela Clary
    Sheela Clary says:

    First of all, I now will have to find a reason to use “faucet hierarchies” in a sentence. Thank you also for the reminder about what makes for good writing and reading; vulnerability and redemption. The vulnerability is essential, the redemption part optional, though the courage to write from your vulnerability is a species of redemption in and of itself, isn’t it?

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh my gosh, I love the idea of vulnerability as redemption. It’s so encouraging and forgiving.

      And of course it puts less pressure on me to look for my nice-end-of-the-story redemption.

      Penelope

      Reply
  2. jessica
    jessica says:

    I’ve read a lot of Ivy entry essays.
    Each one was an exaggerated story of redemption over hardship ‘I beat all the odds’ ‘I discovered a different way’ with impeccable use of grammar and vocabulary. I noticed they do prefer a positive conclusion, because it gives them a reason to cheer and vote for the applicant- ‘This person is a winner’. People like to be apart of a hero’s journey, I guess.
    As a suggestion, encourage your son to write about his homeschooling journey and how he overcame his hardships to succeed. His family dynamic is fascinating to me and maybe something he can write about. A few essays I read were about the family they came from.
    I’m sure you have plenty of ideas, but his experiences seem to lend to a lot of redemption stories. I’m excited to read about what he comes up with.

    Reply
  3. Rita
    Rita says:

    I understand the faucet hierarchies, as I was very fussy about drinking water as a child and I still taste the difference between different faucets. Is it as arbitrary as you imply, or is he tasting the difference, and there’s usually a difference, even if it’s just that one tap is used more often and so has less metal tasting water. Water from bathrooms is tainted with the smell of the soaps round the sink, water from a laundry is stale and metalic musty etc.

    Reply
  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “In case you’re wondering, Stanford students don’t think their teacher matters. Social media matters, because there’s a big audience. And college essays matter because there’s big impact.”

    An alternative to the college essay (which I’m pretty sure wasn’t a requirement when I applied to institutions of higher learning) could be writing on a social media platform (website, blog, Instagram, Reddit, etc.). The applicant could point to their work and give a brief introduction, purpose, and summary including one entry they thought was their best. Their best would include comments from their readers and responses to them.

    Reply
  5. Minami
    Minami says:

    He’s an INTJ. Give him a structure for how to write a college essay, help him pick a topic if he doesn’t have one yet, and leave him to it.

    Maybe he should write about how he wanted to be an archaeologist as a kid, got dragged to an archaeological site, and ended up hating it so much he barfed. And so now, instead of archaeology, he is applying to…whatever his intended major is.

    I probably screwed up some details, but hopefully you get the picture.

    Reply

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