I’ve spent my summer working with high school students on their college applications. My forte in the office is editing essays— passing opinion on as many as five or six each afternoon, delivered face to face to 16 and 17 year olds.
But many times I will read an essay and then set it aside, and then spend my time simply talking to the student about themselves. Tell me about your family. Talk to me about what you want to do in college. Who is an important person in your life.
Important: Where do you find yourself happy? What activity do you do or person do you spend time with that causes you to lose track of time?
Very Important: When do you feel as though you are MOST YOURSELF? With friends? Family? Playing sports? In a science lab? Volunteering at the animal shelter?
I just read a great Atlantic article on the importance of imagination in telling stories. The most important reason: because it is more interesting to tell a story that engages the reader’s imagination as well as your own. Doesn’t matter what is true, even so long as it is compelling.
For example, try this story:
Batman weighed 188 pounds. His hair was black. His complexion was fair. Young Batman grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, where he spent an unhappy and decidedly disturbed childhood. His grandfather was well known in town as the man who had invented the machine that lays down lane stripes on highways all across America. Batman’s mother was an insomniac. She could sew pretty well. She loved a good pork chop. Batman’s father, by contrast, preferred seafood. The church Batman attended was made of limestone. His school was a brick structure. The family car was an Oldsmobile.
Did you make it through that? It wasn’t even much of a story, just a list of facts. And now try this one:
Did you make it through that? It wasn’t even much of a story, just a list of facts.
And now try this one:
When Batman was 6 years old, he grew a big, bushy tail. Often, it popped right out of his pants. This was embarrassing, of course, especially in a place like Sioux City, where tails were out of fashion among midwestern children. As a result, Batman had no friends. Kids laughed at him. One day after school, as Batman was walking home, his tail dragging in the mud behind him, he looked back and saw that he had painted a long dark stripe down the center of the road. His grandfather, who happened to be driving by, took note of this, and of how the stripe neatly divided the road into two separate lanes. What a wonderful way to prevent collisions, thought his grandfather. If only that stripe were yellow! That night at dinner, Batman’s grandfather talked with great excitement about building a machine that would replicate what he had witnessed on the road that day. “We’ll make millions, maybe billions,” he said. “We can finally get out of this cruddy town.” No one else at the dinner table seemed impressed. (“Pass the pork chops,” said Batman’s mother.) But the next morning, undaunted, the grandfather tied young Batman to the rear bumper of the family Oldsmobile and handed him a can of yellow paint. “Just dip in your tail whenever it runs dry,” said the grandfather. “A nice straight line.” And so for miles and miles, Batman painted a neat yellow stripe up and down the streets of Sioux City, Iowa, past limestone churches and past brick schoolhouses. Not a month later, the city’s accident rate had dropped dramatically. Batman suddenly had friends. A parade was held in his honor. Sioux City, Iowa, became known, and is still known today, as the safest city in the safest county in the safest state in America. And little Batman had his first sweet taste of what it was to be a hero, almost a superhero, although to this day his tail remains an appendage he takes great care to disguise. You probably hadn’t even noticed it.
This story gives you a much greater insight into the life and times of Batman. What’s more— it’s ENGAGING. It’s fun to read.
And I can’t tell you how many high school college essays read like the first Batman story. “I did this. And then I accomplished this. And I did this.” I end up trying to teach imagination in my one on ones, and then I have to get them to completely ignore their previous papers and engage in a separate conversation. I’ll talk to them about their lives, what they like to do, etc, and they’re usually surprised when I say “PERFECT! That’s your essay! Look how inspired you are! Write about that!”
College essays are a perfect opportunity to get fired up and passionate. They should be fun. They’re the opportunity to present yourself, to let the admissions counselors get to know you, and you end up writing a resume instead…
I think we’ve got to be teaching our kids a little differently. At least, they shouldn’t feel like every time they’re sitting down to write something that it has to be work, that it has to be written in a certain way.
Anywho, read the article, I enjoyed it. Made me want to start wearing tails.