A College Admissions Essay Contemplation

CMC 2017

To effectively answer essay prompts, an integral component of applications for many US colleges as well as other countries scattered throughout the globe, requires understanding of the autobiographical writing process. According to the Oxford Dictionary, autobiography is “an account of a person’s life written by that person.” How does a teenager, or one of any age for that matter, immersed in the day-to-day hurly burly of modern life even begin to craft a personal narrative, one encapsulating their brief existence, while seeking to differentiate themselves from peers also contending with the same conundrum, all in an effort to gain acceptance at the college of their choice?  

First, the writer of autobiography must seek to know themselves, then render to writing, eventually in a thousand words or less, the essential truth of their experience, one possibly never before articulated, although inevitably submitted to readers who will remain anonymous yet make decisions that could have lasting impacts on the writer’s life—a daunting task indeed. The truth can initially be encountered just below the surface of the conscious mind by taking a breath and sitting still. Though, at first possibly easily recognized, truth if more probed, which is a necessary investigation when writing autobiography, will often prove to be complex and nuanced. Such soul-searching requires a skilled editor, who has traversed through the jungle of storytelling many times, to help morph pithy truth into a well-crafted story. 

A primary editor, chosen by the writer, has the ability to listen effectively, essential to help a writer convey their ideas to a reader. A quality editor must always practice patience when helping writers battle their own self doubt, never relenting in their effort to support the writer’s commitment to complete the narrative. Finally, great editors respect the Herculean effort of giving life to an idea born from the mist of the mind’s infinite complexities, and thus never requests nor accepts praise, knowing that being a part of the creative process of writing is honor enough. 

Now having selected an editor, the process of delving into the reservoir of memory on a quest for a narrative commences in earnest. Some writers, after reflecting upon their lives, can write their initial brain barfs, to which the editor subsequently provides objective feedback in writing or in conversation. Other writers, though, discover details and intuit insights by dialoguing with editors, who plumb perspectives with penetrating, often difficult questions. Then, the writer commits words into a draft, after which the editor can further criticize as needed. In either case, effective editors never tell the writer what or how to write, but only critique what has been written, identifying points in need of clarification, always mindful to help the writer express their narrative from their own point of view and in their own unique voice.

The drafting process by definition is preliminary, therefore more effectively accomplished without regard, until the final drafts, to the word count, the five paragraph essay format ubiquitous to the high school English classroom or any other intimations toward “getting the essay done.” Ultimately, the submitted work is born from toil and turmoil, hallmarks of an effective drafting process—the more drafts the better—that many times leads to friction (a love-hate creative relationship) between writer and editor, only to resolve into harmony arising from understanding between writer and editor (reader) of a narrative that delineates the past, the present, as well as a vision, the essential experience to be sought in the neverending future, all which validates the quintessence of the being writing the story.

The best draft to be submitted—widely distributed to an audience of hopefully responsible college admissions officers adept at discerning fact from gamed fiction—on or before deadline day is a cohesive, complete, but never finished, narrative that candidly and imperfectly elucidates their life, a dynamic, ever-unfolding series of experiences to date. The final written product, a work of collaborative intimacy indeed a work of art, expressed from the heart by a writer, who wants, as do we all, to not only be understood, but accepted for their past, to prophecy a future constantly unfolding, and although instigated by a desire to complete a college application, is a treasure trove of awareness whose value cannot be computed nor diminished. 


To learn more about Creative Marbles Consultancy’s collaborative college admissions essay editorial advising, visit us at creativemarbles.com

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About Art Baird, Founding Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Art melds his passion for acquiring and disseminating knowledge with his decades of experience teaching into straightforward, collaborative advising. His pointed questioning facilitates debate, empowering clients to achieve their vision in education and in life.
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