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College Essay: September

You had hoped that the college essay would be done in July. You knew that more than a year of pandemic schooling had been tough. You tried not to nag. You tried not to beg, plead, or cajole. Hand wringing didn't work. Sleepless nights didn't work. None of your friends seemed to have the answer, either. No approach seemed to get these kids to sit down in front of the screen and start writing. Soon the summer passed and now here you all are waiting. Anxious. Impatient. Uncertain.

Who will blink first?

I can tell you from my years of teaching seniors that the sense of urgency regarding the college essay writing process doesn't set in until mid-September. Yep. Right about now. They are, at last, about to blink.

Except they claim they have nothing to write about. Nada.

You think back to what you wrote almost two decades or more ago, searching to find a copy of it. Maybe you wrote it before computer drafting or maybe you wrote it in a program that no longer exists. Maybe you can't even remember what you wrote. In any case, what you composed then is unlikely to be what colleges are looking for today in structure or content. It's a different animal, it's a different game.

It's complicated.

Know that before an English teacher assigns a draft of the college essay due on Monday, or before you threaten to ground your kid until they get the first paragraph written, the first paragraph is often the hardest. Why? Because our kids have spent most of middle school and high school learning and practicing how to write academic essays. They haven't developed the same level of skill in composing personal, first-person allowed memoirish writing that they have in the long outdated 5 paragraph essay and/or its new incarnation, the persuasive or argumentative essay which synthesizes facts from multiple sources and asks them to draw broad conclusions, exactly what admissions readers don't want to read in college essays. Specificity is the name of this game.

You can't get specific until you do some legwork. What kids really need is to identify their own traits and values BEFORE they can even begin drafting. In other words, do some reflection and mining of the past and present. Otherwise, they will stare at the page paralyzed by fear of inadequacy (lack of skill), the inability to come up with 3 specific and unusual adjectives that describe their actual personality (try it at home), and then match those traits, values, and characteristics to a story from their life which shows these traits in action (many kids think they don't have any such stories OR that their story is exactly the same as everyone else's.)

Using the Gateless writing method and my own decades long experiences, I end the paralysis. Students who work with me get words on the page, words that have meaning, words that avoid the appearance of a cookie cutter, and words that bring the voice of your child alive on the page--the kid that you know, and love, and are proud of comes through. They are seen by admissions officers the way you and others see your child. Unique. Special. Worthy.

If this all sounds familiar, if no longer struggling, fighting, nagging, sounds like the September you want, visit my website or contact me,, and we can talk about a plan so you both can enjoy your fall.

Happy September!


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