It’s the first Wednesday of the month, time for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group. Anyone is allowed to participate. Just click on this link and join the group. And, if you haven’t already, join Alex’s army of followers. Now, on with the show...
There’s a lot to be insecure about when you’re a writer: Does the story work? Is the writing beautiful? Are the characters sympathetic? Is it full of tension and emotion? Will readers enjoy it? On and on it goes, ad nauseum. I agonize over these issues and many others on a daily basis, but over the last twenty-one months, I’ve learned a great deal about the craft. I feel much more confident now than when I first started, that’s for damn sure.
Then came a huge test—in the form of the college essay. First, let me say, no, I’m not applying to college. I’ve already done my time and then some. It’s my seventeen-year-old son who has applied to a buttload of colleges and universities up and down the West Coast, seventeen in all, I believe. The two major
California university systems, UC and , have their own online common applications. The other public schools he’s applied to in Cal State Arizona and , where we currently live, each have their own unique applications, and five of the six remaining private schools he’s applied to all use the Common Application which allows an applicant to submit his information on one website, though each school has its own supplemental requirements. Washington State
Each application requires a general essay that should demonstrate—beyond standardized test scores, grades, and GPA—exactly what makes the applicant unique on a personal, not academic, level, what sets him apart from every other applicant, why he would be an asset to that particular school. Well, for the over-achieving brainiac or all-star athlete, this might be an easier task, but for the average kid, yeah, not so much.
Now, my kid does very well in school. As a Running Start student, he’s been taking a full load of college level courses at a local four-year college since the beginning of his junior year in high school, but while his GPA is well above the three and a half mark and he’s been getting straight As for the last three quarters, he’s not a perfect 4.0. Nor does he have the athletic prowess to participate in school sponsored sports, varsity or otherwise. But does this mean there’s nothing special about him, nothing that would make any college accept him into their hallowed halls? Hell, no! But how, exactly, do you make an average kid look anything but?
Well, I read a few books on successful college admission essays (the one above is great, by the way), learned the key to honing in on those qualities that make an individual standout, and, most importantly, how to draw a correlation between those unique qualities and how they exemplify good character, profound skills, influential motivation, and valuable accomplishments. No easy task, let me tell you, but I was able to instruct my overwhelmed son on how to write an essay that showed him in the best light imaginable.
Aside from the one general essay which was sent with each application, most schools required supplemental essays that asked specific questions like: How have your disappointments led to personal growth and success? What are your thoughts and experiences, good or bad, regarding diversity and inclusion? How will you help this university carry out its core mission to promote learning so that its students acquire the knowledge, skills, values, and sensitivities needed for success as persons, professionals, and architects of a more humane and just world?
Yeah, those are some tough questions, baby, and my son had some remarkably expansive, candid, profound, and poignant responses. In fact, one private college remarked that his essay was the deciding factor when they accepted him for admittance. But even still, his essays, however thoughtful, needed a great deal of both inspiration and editing. And I can honestly say that I would never have been able to help him as well as I have had I not spent the last twenty-one months writing a novel, blog posts, and being critiqued while critiquing the works of others. The skills I’ve acquired have taught me the vital importance of being able to communicate effectively through the written word.
I’m incredibly proud of my child. He’s five for five, so far, in acceptances, including two of his top three choices. As for the others, we likely won’t be hearing from them until March. Then April is the big decision month. At this point, I can honestly say that even if my attempt at writing a novel comes to nothing, I still feel like it’s all been worth it, because I’ve helped my kid get accepted to some pretty distinguished schools. It’s my last ditch attempt at sending him on his way, on teaching him to be an independent adult, which is the greatest challenge for any parent. So, even though I know for sure things will change, as of this minute, I’m anything but an insecure writer.