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  • amyalysaglynn

"But I'm Not 'Special.'"

True. And false. Also? Completely beside the point.

It's March. If you have a current 11th grader, you've probably started having this conversation in some form or other. It is dawning on your junior that they will be called upon to account for themselves in this three-ring circus we call college admissions. Your junior might be champing at the bit to tell their story... and if so, count yourself lucky, because you're in a fortunate and tiny minority. Most people of this age wither inside at the thought of having to "be impressive" or "compete" or "have a sob story" (yes, really, this comes up constantly). They will tell you they have nothing to say, nothing that distinguishes them, no meaningful achievements to discuss. Maybe you're pushing back on them and reminding them of that cool thing they did in 9th grade, or maybe you're in panic mode looking up summer internships so they will have "something" to write a college essay about. Maybe this is making your student feel reassured. Maybe it's making you guys want to kick each other in the shins under the dinner table. All of these scenarios are 100% normal.

Here's the crux of the proverbial biscuit: as a parent or guardian, you have no creds whatsoever on this front. Anything you try to persuade your kid is genuinely special about them will provoke pissy eye-rolls or sarcastic rejoinders muttered at the floor. See, they know they are special TO YOU. They just don't trust it, because they think you're a wee bit biased by–you know: having raised them.

They're correct, by the way. You're biased. Everyone is. You wouldn't dream of trying to be your child's therapist, right? Because you don't have the objectivity, the neutrality, or the clarity to do that. By definition, you're too close to the situation for any of that. I'd like to suggest that this more often than not holds true for college essays, and that one of the best things you can do to support your kiddo is to farm that stuff OUT to someone who has no skin in the game beyond wanting said kiddo to feel proud of their applications. Of course, that's MY bias–and that bias is the reason I do this kind of work. Like a lot of folks, I do what I do because I wish I'd had someone like me in my corner.

Here's the deal with being "special." Every single one of us is special by virtue of being who we are–we're more than special; we're unique. Are "all the kids" writing about their struggle with ADHD or their scouting project or how their sports injury taught them patience? YES. Screeners read scads of essays on those topics every single season. And guess what: each essay is a unique individual, just like the person who wrote it. It's a genuine rarity (if it ever happens) for a student to write an essay on a topic those guys have never seen before. That's not what matters and it isn't what they're looking for. "They," the shadowy, ominous gods of college admissions, are not looking for who's done the most impressive thing or has the most innovative topic. They'll understand what your student has done from the rest of the application. It's all going to be in there. What they're looking for when they read your essay is a glimpse of who the student truly is.

Students I have worked with write about their ADHD, their anxiety, their processing disorder. They write about scouting projects and church youth groups and community service projects. They write about their sports injury and how it taught them patience, or what it's like growing up BIPOC in a monolithically white community (and vice versa). And people writing those essays have gotten into some freaking awesome schools.

But literally ANY topic can result in a masterpiece of an essay. I've had students write about redwood trees (Welcome to Princeton!), a day in their life as seen from the point of view of their cat (Welcome to UC Berkeley!), or why they geek out on algebra (Welcome to Harvey Mudd!). I've seen dissertations on what makes an authentic mapo tofu (Welcome to NYU!), odes to ice cream (pack your parka; you're headed to University of Vermont!), and screeds against cystic acne (get ready to transfer that Accutane prescription to Nashville, because you're going to Vanderbilt!). What makes a brilliantly successful essay isn't the subject matter: you can knock this out of the park with a love letter to your lucky underpants if you want to. Screeners want to understand who the student IS, not what they've done. Luckily, they are the world's leading authority on who they are, so they've already got everything they need. The challenge is convincing them of that, and that's where I come in.

Looking for backup? Hit me up.

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