Wednesday, November 26, 2008

College Essays

I just finished coaching and editing two college application essays, on very different topics, for different schools, by very different writers. But they had one thing in common: false starts. Many writers warm up on paper without realizing it, only beginning their essays after a paragraph or so of warm-up material. To submit such a rough piece would be tantamount to a composer actually recording the band's warm-up session as the opening to a song--not advisable for keeping an audience engaged!

My trick to redirecting both students correlates with the age-old literary technique known (in Latin) as EN MEDIA RES ("in the middle of things"), which I learned about in high school English class. At the end of both students' first paragraphs shone their perfect opening lines. Once I slashed out the bulk of each opening paragraph, and pointed out the golden lines, the students enjoyed an "aha" moment and rewrote their essays with the new opening lines. I suggested the addition of specific examples in both cases, to replace or augment general statements. I explained to both aspiring college students that the key to standing out among the applicants is to offer vivid examples that create memorable essays.

It always comes down to memorable words, doesn't it?