This post was written by Amanda Lorencz, a member of the Girls Write now College Prep Panel, and a speaker at the Girls College Bound Informational Seminar, held on November 9, 2013.
“How important are the SATs? What are my options if I don’t have a ton of extra-curricular activities? Where are my best options of getting in to college; does it matter where I go? Why is my personal statement so important and how do I write it?”
Macaulay Honors College was abuzz with these questions and more at the Girls Write Now annual College Bound Informational Seminar on November 9th. Parents and students alike attended seminars subjects including Admissions, College Life, Choosing the Right College, and the all-important College Essay Writing 101.
The day was structured in such a way to give all the girls and their parents ample time to quiz panel experts and listen in on important tips on how to keep focused on all the components of a college application. Ages ran the gamut, with many high school seniors, but juniors and even some sophomores attended too — the message being it’s never too late to be prepared.
Reassurance, Not Pressure
As a first-time College Prep Panel member, and resident fly on the wall, I was continually impressed by the openness of dialogue on both sides of the table. Rather than a day of pressure and stress, every panelist tried to convey a current of reassurance. Tom Rabbitt, an Admissions Counselor at Sarah Lawrence, set the tone of the day by stating that he had been on both sides of the college admissions process, and that it really is just about finding the right place and understanding what students want an admissions committee to know about them in the personal statement.
In many ways I was a teensy bit jealous, because my college application process had been so contradictory with all signs pointing to failure if college was not my goal. With so many choices, and college education considered a “standard practice” nowadays, that kind of mindset can be intimidating, and many may not find it worth the effort if they are only set up to fail. All of the panelists had quite a different view, but if anything, I think their strongest message was perseverance and belief in yourself.
At lunch I got the chance to speak to some of the attendees to ask what they thought of the event so far. The overwhelming response was that they were glad to get so much information, and to sort some of their questions out. One student confessed that she had already applied for early decision, but wanted to come to this event to gather more tips in case she need wanted to apply for more schools.
Another dialogue I encountered was the difference between being a first generation college student versus a second or third. Those with siblings in college seemed more likely to have the sibling’s college in mind as a college of choice since they had visited them, and still others were concerned with whethe,r as a first generation college-bound student, they should stay close to home or go away to school.
College Essay Writing
After lunch the girls broke out into different sessions to learn about Financial Aid, Taking the SATs, Pathway to College, and College Essay Writing 101, which itself consisted of three sessions. I was assigned to help with College Essay Writing with other panelists, lead by Sophie Herron ,who works with Story to College, which helps students write the best personal essay for college applications. In the two sessions I attended the students were shown examples of different types of essays and asked to critique them. The panelists also offered advice of ways of writing, or not writing, that would grab a committees’ attention.
When I was in high school, the Common App didn’t exist, or if it did, I didn’t apply to schools that used it, so I was surprised to learn that the essay the girls would be writing would serve for any school they applied to rather than separate essays for each school. This both simplifies and complicates the process. If you have to write an essay for all the schools, the essays do indeed have to showcase who the applicant is, and how she shines without being vague and general.
The consensus for the first session was that any essay, on any topic, has to grab, hold, and keep the reader wanting more. In the second workshop (which was for girls who already had versions of their essays written), the task was even more difficult. Once you know what you are writing about, how do you craft it to do all of those things?
My advice to that class was to always be genuine — in other words, to make whatever she was writing be something that she felt rather than said just to say it, or because it sounded good. For example, if she were writing about cheese, we discussed the difference between saying: “Cheese is something I really enjoy and this one time…” versus “The man in the moon has nothing on how much I love cheese…”
The difference here was that the second has the passion and conviction of someone who really wants to tell you something, and is proud of it. That conviction tells the reader so much about who you are, and what you are capable of. While it can be difficult to find that moment to write about, once found, the possibilities for showcasing yourself will become that much easier since you will be more confident in your own voice.
There will always be questions that need answers in any college process, and there will be countless revisions of essays to get them just right. But from my overall impressions of the day, these girls, with continued guidance and support, are well on their way to college success.