Everyone’s upset about the parents depicted in Lacy Crawford's article, but what does it say about the essay coach herself?
I had a real adverse reaction to the article by essay coach Lacy Crawford that ran in a recent New York Post article, “Tutor Reveals Ivy-admissions madness of rich penthouse parents.” Crawford has now penned a novel, “Early Decision,” based presumably on her experiences of working with kids of big-rich parents who basically bought their kids’ way into the Ivies.
In the article, she trashes all the parents who, she says, “raised their children to reach for the stars without teaching them how to so much as stretch out an arm.” (The best line in the whole piece, by the way.) She condemns them for asking her to write the essays for their children at $7,500 a pop, and rails that honesty is “harder and harder to find in these days of tiger parenting.”
But what she fails to acknowledge is that she is part of the problem. A problem that made her a very good living for 15 years. She also never answers the question if she wrote the essays for the students. She recounts one anecdote where a girl applying to Yale wrote the essay herself, but you’re still left to wonder if Crawford perhaps didn’t pen some.
Also, in the Yale anecdote, she admits that the girl struggled with her essay for no reason since her parents’ donation of a building with their name on it all but guaranteed her entry.
If that is true, why was Crawford even needed? If the essays were mere window dressing, then why hire a pricy expert? She seems to see no irony in this fact. In fact she asserts, “My name was shared among wealthy families who would not have dreamed of hiring one of the big college-application consulting shops; they wanted exclusivity, someone other students couldn’t have.”
And now, she’s sacrificing all the parents who she lived
off for so many years in order, it appears, to publicize her book.
I am not saying the parent's antics to money and status their way into college isn't obnoxious and disheartening, but in this case, it takes two to tango (anxious, fabulously wealthy parents + willing essay coach).
My “early decision” on her novel: I think I’ll pass.
When writing the common application essay, should you write about what you want, then shoe-horn it into one of the prompts, or let the prompt guide you from the start of the process?
The answer depends on your life experiences and which prompt you chose.
In the past, the common application prompts were broad and included a “topic of your choice” so students could write about anything they wanted.
This year, the five prompts have become more pinpointed. The responses are therefore going to be more specific. For example, take the question about failure: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn? The focus of the question is so narrow, that students will almost automatically know if they have a story to tell on this topic or not.
On the other hand, two of the prompts are still quite broad: 1) Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story, and 2) Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Almost any “background” story can fit into the first prompt (a tale of cultural identity, an illness, being homeschooled, coming from a large family, etc.). And almost any event or achievement can fit into the second prompt, as long as you add something to the essay about the transformation from childhood to adulthood. And I am discovering that while most students would not originally characterize an event in their lives as a transition from childhood to adulthood, once they think about it, 99 percent of the time, they realize that it actually did mark such a change.
I have also found that most of my students start the essay writing process not knowing what they want to write about. Therefore, I think the best way to approach the essay prompts is to read all five carefully and see which “leaps” out at you as a possible topic. (Or there may be two or even three that look like possibilities.) Almost always, students can find at least one that sparks a story. If, however, you look at the topic choices and draw a blank, then, instead, mine your intellectual interests, hobbies and extracurricular activities, and cultural background to come up with a topic. Write a draft of the essay, and then, later, tweak it to fit one of the prompts. Or, in the process of writing it, you may even find that the essay naturally “drifts” into one of the essay prompts all on its own.
Either way, the end result will hopefully be the same: an authentic essay that shows your personality, your passion, and your strengths.
The New York Times Education Life section ran an interesting article, Unnatural Selection, by Ruth Starkman in the Sunday edition of the paper. Starkman, who teaches writing and ethics at Stanford, writes about the ambiguities of being a reader for U.C. Berkeley’s fall 2011 admissions cycle. She struggled to fairly rank applicants on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the highest, and talks about how readers were instructed to view the “bigger picture” of a student’s life beyond just grades and test scores.
Starkman’s piece raises the issues of race, socioeconomic stressors, and a parent’s ability to pay full tuition that lurk just below the surface of the admissions department’s “official” screening process.
What’s the take-home message of these nuggets? I guess I would sum it up as 1) be true to yourself as a person and a writer, 2) be careful when writing about struggles, and 3) find something else to write about than that trip to Africa to help the orphans.
Of course this is only the take by one reader of one university; still it’s revealing and worth paying attention to.
June and July may seem early to start thinking about college application essays, but in truth, the timing is perfect. Rising seniors should take advantage of the summer "lull" to tackle their essays before fall rolls around and their lives get hectic.
Of course, for most students, the hardest part of writing the Personal Statement is picking a topic.
This year, the Common Application prompts have changed. Applicants have the option of writing on one of five topics, which you can find here. I think the best technique is for students to think about what story they have to tell, and then fit the story into one of the prompts rather than vice-versa. This way, students won’t see the prompts as constricting, which can cause writer’s block.
So, what should students write about? Part of this equation is what not to write about. So here is a list of topics that should probably be avoided:
And while it may seem obvious, students should also not write about:
Dealings with the Law, Excessive Drinking, or Drugs. Even if an applicant has reformed, these misdeeds are hard for college admissions staff to move past.
Personal Statements should show the applicant in the best possible light. This is a student’s chance to show his or her passion, individuality, growth, maturity, and resilience. Colleges want to know that the students they accept will bring strengths, creativity, and curiosity to their campuses and that they will be successful members of the college community. If an essay topic doesn’t express this, a student should find another one to write about.
In January, Ron Lieber, a money columnist for the New York Times, asked high school seniors to send in college admissions essays about money, class, working, and the economy.
Sixty-six students submitted essays, and with the help of Harry Bauld, author of “On Writing the College Application Essay,” he picked four essays that he felt were superior.
What all the essays had in common, said Lieber in a column that ran today, was that they had an “appetite for risk.” The students weren’t afraid to tackle tough topics. They also took “counterintuitive positions” on class, money, and the application process.
One student critiqued the college application process, noting that all the mailers colleges send to applicants is a waste of money and that instead they should spend the funds on their students. This student is going to Oberlin College in the fall; however, interestingly, while he did send this essay to Antioch College, which accepted him, he did not send it to Oberlin.
Another student wrote about his immigrant experience in the United States – a difficult topic to put a fresh spin on – but the admissions staff at N.Y.U, where the student will be attending next year, felt the take was unique enough, and accepted him.
The third student wrote about how she never felt the United States was her home. "The earth is my `home,'” she wrote. This declaration caught the eye of – and an acceptance from --Hamilton College. The admissions officer at Hamilton told the Times that she liked this one because she did not feel it had been written by parents or another adult, which according to her, often happens.
The fourth student, when applying to Princeton, wrote that she wondered if the college should be poorer. She did not get accepted to Princeton, but did to Cornell, where she did not write about the university’s level of affluence.
I recommend everyone read the complete story as it offers a window into the minds of admissions’ officers. For example, the admissions officer at NYU said he liked the student’s essay on his immigrant experience because the essay brought the student's background and circumstances “into Technicolor. He paints a very vivid picture.”
This comment is key to what makes a college application essay stand out – details. It’s also interesting to think that officers can tell when an essay has been written by adults. This is crucial information for all of us out there who are helping students with their essays, whether we are independent counselors, parents, English teachers, or high school counselors. While for sure young writers often need brainstorming and guidance in writing their essays, their voices must be their own.
The results are in for the 2013 college admission statistics, and two trends are clear: the applicant pool is growing larger and colleges are growing even more selective. The Choice, the New York Times college admissions blog, reports, for example, that USC received more than 74,000 applicants this year – 10,000 more than just two years ago. And UCLA received the highest amount of applicants ever in the history of college admissions: 99,559.
As far as selectivity goes, seven of the eight Ivy League schools lowered their acceptance rates this year. The University of Chicago, as an example of another selective school, accepted a paltry 8.8 percent. Stanford took the prize for the most selective school of the season – accepting 5.69 percent of students.
The Choice concludes that “the competitive nature of college admissions has yet to reach a tipping point. As students continue to apply in droves to an increasing number of schools, the admissions officers must become more selective. This selectivity, of course, gives applicants more cause to become more competitive, and, year after year, increase the number of colleges to which they apply.”
Click here for a comprehensive list of acceptance rates for colleges this year.
I know that SAT Prep isn’t normally in my repertoire, but I am posting a recent story I wrote on last-minute prep for the parenting web site, mom.me.
A few tips I wasn’t able to put into the story:
Practice Tests. Experts recommend taking at least three, but no more than one a week or you may burn out.
What to Study. Experts said too many kids waste valuable study time drilling high-level math, such as pre-calculus, that is not even on the SAT. Also, for the English portion of the test, experts advise students to focus most of their prep time on reading comprehension skills. Many students spend hours prepping vocabulary, but there are many more reading comprehension and analysis questions on the SAT than strict vocabulary questions.
The Essay. Don’t worry so much about the prompt. You are not being tested on your knowledge of the subject you are being asked to write about, say experts, but rather on your ability to organize your thoughts, take a position, and stay on-topic.
September is suddenly
upon us, which means that seniors are hopefully working on their
college application essays. For those
students in the San Gabriel Valley area, I will be putting on a workshop next
Wednesday, September 19, at the Crowell Public Library in San Marino on “Everything You Wanted to Know About College Application Writing.” I will cover what sorts of essays you should
expect to write, topics to avoid, style tips, how to recycle essays, and
The library is located at 1890
Huntington Drive in San Marino. I hope
to see you there!