From time to time, we will be welcoming guest bloggers to the website. Today, we're pleased to host Ana Homayoun, an expert on time-management and organization. You may notice that our guests' recommendations don't always jibe with the guidance in our book -- for example, we recommend that you do your essays first, before the rest of the application! But not all great minds think alike and we believe you can benefit from a broad spectrum of advice and expertise. As you count down to your deadlines, Ms. Homayoun is here to help: When it comes to the college application process, I often think of December as akin to the third of the four laps of the timed mile run in P.E. class. Even though you have already done so much and exhaustion is starting to creep in, there still may be a key amount of work left to do before the finish/submission line. Some students feel as though they have been hearing about college applications forever, and by December many students can find the final details daunting. But some simple steps can make a huge difference in successfully finishing up.
Some of the girls we know are using a new "tool" to power through their college applications -- Written? Kitten! For every 100 words you write, you are rewarded with a new picture of -- you guessed it -- a kitten. As the creators describe it: "We like positive reinforcement, so we decided to make something a bit like writeordie but cuter and fuzzier." We are suckers for motivational tools and internet kittens. It's a win-win! Hat tip: Catherine and Amy Rosch, future members of the Class of 2016.
Guess what! Just like college admission has its myths and urban legends, so does the story of Thanksgiving . Here, from one of our favorite education writers, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss, some myth-busting -- the Pilgrims actually ate venison, not turkey? -- and a collection of fun facts -- 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkin are produced each year!?! Eat some pie!
We're going to send you off into the Thanksgiving holiday with the following excellent advice about college application essays from Alice Kleeman, a contributor to College Admission and the college advisor at Silicon Valley's Menlo-Atherton High School. Ms. Kleeman knows her way around the personal statement and short answers of the application. She estimates she has read the essays of several hundred students each year for the last eighteen years. The two best? "There was one about Krispy Kreme donuts and one about a student's job in a hardware store. I like that contrast!" says Kleeman. "Most important thing: The essay is all about you."
• Respond to the prompt! And if it's a two-part prompt, be sure to respond to both parts. Example: "Tell us about your world; what impact does your world have on your hopes and dreams?"
• Don’t hesitate, if you’re working on the Common App 500-word-max essay, to choose “Topic of Your Choice” as your prompt. That choice may help you respond more naturally and feel less confined to canned topics.
One of the most challenging aspects of writing college application essays can be finding and writing in the first-person voice. This is partly because the type of academic writing required of high school students is often heavy on the passive voice and expository -- or third-person – writing. So what you have learned in your English class can sometimes get in the way when it comes to writing the personal statement or essay required in the application process.
You will have to move beyond what you have learned to write for class to a more personal kind of essay in which you write about things from your unique perspective in a style closer to your speaking voice.
We are not fans of "essays that worked" whether found on the web or bookstore shelves. It's hard to write an essay about who you are when you have someone else's ideas fixed in your head. But we do believe that reading great first-person essayists -- authors like David Sedaris and Annie Lamott -- can help you find your authentic voice and your story. And they're terrific reading in any case.
Here are our recommendations:
Mix one part approaching holidays with one part looming application deadlines and you may have a recipe for procrastination or full-on writer's block when it comes to writing your essays. But no worries, both are temporary conditions.
If you're in the throes of a case of writer's block, one of the ways to get “unstuck” and develop some good stuff you might be able to use for your essays is to actually take a detour and write about something else. This may seem counterintuitive, but responding to a different -- and slightly provocative -- question than the one you seek to answer in your application essay can help move things along. And doing so can also help you find the heart of things, so that what you say and how you say it can have more impact.
Deborah Michel, author of the forthcoming novel Prosper In Love and parent to two applicants for the Class of 2016
One of my daughter's essay prompts was "You're looking out a window. What do you see?" I remember a writer friend using that one, and I like it myself.
I access art a lot when I'm writing. So…
Describe a painting or photograph you love in detail. What is it about that image?
Describe your favorite photograph of yourself.
Or, better yet: Describe your favorite photograph of yourself that doesn't actually exist.
The web can also be a good source for prompts. College Admission did some web-surfing (one of our favorite methods of procrastination) and found some links for you:
Meg Waite Clayton, bestselling author of The Four Ms. Bradwells, The Wednesday Sisters, The Language of Light, and the forthcoming The Wednesday Daughters
From Meg's blog, how to get the words onto paper:
I remind myself that I can throw anything out if it doesn’t work. The trick is just to write without worrying about exactly what you’re writing. Any sentence will do to start — and if it sucks, you can throw it out later!
And some prompts from what she calls her "bag of tricks":
Dig out an old personal photo and write about how it makes you feel.
Subscribe to an online word-a-day service like Google word, and each day when you sit down to write, start with a sentence that uses your word of the day.
Shelly King, author of Morning Fog, available in Epiphany
One of my favorite prompts was from a master class that novelist Elizabeth Rosner conducted. We described a character by describing an object that is important to him/her. The example she gave was a friend of hers who always wore flip-flops, even in the dead of winter, even when he was hiking. Here are some others:
Where were you last night?
I don't remember....
Ken Harvey, author of the memoir, A Passionate Engagement, and the award-winning collection of short stories, If You Were with Me Everything Would Be All Right.
Talk about a time when you changed your mind.
Talk about a time when a book surprised you.