Tuesday, September 3, 2013

College Application Essays

First Day of School

Years ago, the day after Labor Day brought a new beginning for children. It was the standard day for schools to start the new year. With that day, we considered summer to be officially over. Not so today, since many schools begin anywhere from the first week of August clear up to the first week in September. What do you remember about those first days of school? I did a post earlier last month about adding to your memory books, recalling what those first days of school were like as you moved from the kindergarten class all the way through your senior year in high school.

Late in my senior year, I applied for college. I think I had to fill out a form with name and address and checked a box saying I'd like a state scholarship. Surely there was a bit more on that paper but not a lot. I asked my husband, who went to a private college as opposed to the state school I attended, whether he had a big application form, including writing an essay. His application was little more than what mine had been. I asked a friend yesterday afternoon what hers had been like and all she remembered was the line where it said Send money. 

We had been discussing it because our oldest granddaughter, Alexis, is applying for colleges now. She is just beginning her senior year of high school. She's applying to four schools but has her heart set on one. She's got her back-up plan with the other three in case the favorite doesn't work out. It's a whole different game today. She's a very good student, ranking #11 in a class of over 900. Even so, the admissions person she interviewed with at the #1 choice told her that may not be good enough. Scary! 

It didn't deter Alexis. She spent this past weekend working on the application form. Part of it was an essay to be written from a prompt given that would show the applicant's character traits. She wrote the essay, then emailed to me and her other grandmother, who is a school librarian. "Would you look at this and edit it for me?" It goes without saying as to what our response was.

Only two weeks earlier, I'd read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the essays sent with college applications. Apparently, there are parents who pay big bucks to have someone write the essay their child sends in as their own. Hope it was not on the same subject as the one Alexis had to write. Character traits, indeed! One man reportedly paid $10,000 for his daughter's essay. It made me wonder whether, even if she gets into that school, she'd last very long.

I became curious enough to google guidelines for college application essays and I was totally amazed at the number of articles that popped up. This is now big business. I read several to get a feel for what they want and what they don't want before I edited my granddaughter's essay. Many of the articles suggested that the student ask two or three people to edit their work. To be honest, that kind of surprised me as I would have thought they want the student's work without having any help. That might happen, I suppose, in a perfect world and we all know there is no such place. 

Yesterday afternoon, I did a second reading of the essay and then proceeded to write a list of things I hoped my granddaughter would take into consideration. Next, I did a critique in the same manner as I would for a submission from a member of my online critique group. I did let Alexis know that these were only suggestions and that she was the one to decide whether to use them or not. I also explained that it was not being critical but to help her grow as a writer, the same as in my crit group. 

As for the essay she wrote--this grandmother is very proud of what she chose to write about and the way she wrote it. It was quite well done, and the suggestions I made for changes were actually very minor things. A polishing rather than major revisions. 

And next comes the wait. Alexis won't be waiting alone, her entire family will wait with her. She's a very sensible, mature young woman, and if this doesn't work out, she'll swallow her disappointment and move on. 

Have any of you had experiences with the college application essay process in today's world? 

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