“I Have Nothing New To Say” … And 3 Other Common Quotes From Uncommon High School Students When It Comes to The College Essay
They each have a unique point-of-view and they each have their own tone-of-voice which they use to express this point-of-view. It’s this idiosyncratic take or slant that I try to tease out of a high school junior or rising senior when they feel they “have nothing new to say.”
First, I debunk this quote by suggesting a student pump up the volume on what it is that matters to them. The 17 or 18-year old student then usually disagrees with me – just a little – and I, always up for a challenge from a smart teenager, welcome the protest. The “No, that’s not what I mean at all” is the voice and point-of-view I’ve been soliciting — it’s the beautiful sound of wheels turning, trying to figure out what it IS they do mean.
What then follows is an essay draft that amplifies their message, enabling college admissions’ officers to hear the students’ stories illustrating their them-ness. This is the je ne sais quoi that elevates an ok essay into a great narrative and makes a particular student’s voice the one that colleges are listening for.
Here are a few other quotes that I hear during the college counseling and application process:
“I’ve done nothing interesting with my life.”
First of all, this isn’t true. Flipping burgers at the local beach shack, interning for a documentarian or teaching soccer at the neighborhood YMCA are not only interesting activities, they are life-enriching in ways that most high schoolers don’t grasp. These experiences supply the grit that will get these scholars through college and into the career of their choice.
Many rising seniors don’t perceive their years spent in the classroom as productive. Sure, some are proud of their GPA or AP scores, but most feel they are merely ticking off boxes of requirements to get into college. In other words, they don’t necessarily see how valuable their knowledge larder is! I see it when working with them. They have learned languages and scientific data; they can reason their way through debates using not only logic, but historical and literary examples from curriculum dating back to middle school. Not only are their lives interesting, they’re chock-full of untapped material for college essays.
“I’m the best writer in my grade.”
Now, this may or may not be true.
But every rising senior IS a seasoned writer who has probably spent Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours honing their craft. The secret is: the value judgment of good or bad doesn’t matter. Yes, a college essay must be grammatically correct and should follow certain criteria in form, but words like “good” or “bad” speak more to taste and, unfortunately, an applicant has no control over whether a college admissions’ dean likes or dislikes their particular writing style. When working with a student, I urge authenticity of voice. If it’s soulful, it can’t be bad. As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.”
“Everyone I know has good scores and grades.”
Frankly, who cares. The advice I give students is to run their own race. When the online and at-school noise of who’s scoring what/who’s applying ED where, gets too loud, the ability to focus diminishes.
Many rising seniors are well aware of their competitors’ stats and their “competitors” are often their friends. This can make the college application process even more emotionally charged. Best practice is to take a vow of silence. In this age of digital sharing, scores, grades, essay topics and application strategies are best kept mum.
It’s the perfect season for students to take a break from tracking peers’ statuses and again, turn their attention to their own college application journey. Visit campuses, schedule interviews and begin drafting the Common Application Essay.Share