top of page
  • amyalysaglynn

The Transformative Power of Being Yourself

A top concern of most of my undergraduate applicants is that, no matter how many times I tell them otherwise, they have a sneaking suspicion there are "right" and "wrong" answers to the questions posed by their college essay prompts. Surely the seven Common Ap questions aren't equal in the eyes of admissions screeners? Like, if I choose the "Write about whatever you want" prompt, it's a cop-out and proves I haven't done enough Meaningful Leadership stuff, right? If I write about "a challenge," isn't that "playing the victim card?" Won't Dreamdate University neg me if I confess to having a mood disorder?

One million miles of "It doesn't work like that."

Our current crop of seniors belong to a generation that has been programmed to value the performative. While this might bag you a surprising number of social media followers, it's poison in a college essay. The truth is, no one can ever truly know what will and won't resonate for the random, faulty human who reads your essay, so when you think about it, transparent attempts to please these people, or dutiful box-ticking moves that express nothing in particular about you, other than demonstrating that you're terrified of saying the wrong thing? Likely. To. Backfire.

I have a brilliant student right now who is attempting to transfer into a very, very competitive school from a local community college after taking a gap year. Since the gap year was in response to not getting into this same school, "Jane" is understandably nervous. She's been rejected by these people before. She's primed for it to happen again. She really, really wants to say the magic words. When we'd evolved a first draft of a major essay, she suddenly became uncharacteristically sheepish. "I've never allowed myself to write like this before," she said. "It's so... flirty! Is... is that OK?"

"You are trying to get a major league research university to want to be in a relationship with you, are you not?"

"Well... yeah!"

The wonderful thing (OK, one of the many wonderful things) about Jane is that, precisely because of how her immediate post high school life played out, she's become much bolder about the radical notion that she should simply show up as her true self in these essays. So she's finding this new way of writing at least as exhilarating as it is scary. That feeling is a sure sign that you're on the right track in ANY writing assignment. In the literary world, this is usually referred to as "inspiration," but in this one, I'm cool with calling it "permission."

College applicants very often need explicit, affirmative permission to be themselves. They've grown up in a landscape of "huge consequences for saying the wrong thing even if it's a good faith misfire," not to mention a social media culture that prizes and normalizes some pretty major league inauthenticities. It's an understandable anxiety. If you are the applicant's parent or guardian, then believe me, the odds are huge that they will not accept this kind of authenticity-permission directly from you. It's just developmentally a longshot at their moment in life, and they plain won't believe you know what you're talking about. That's where people like me come in, even for students who are naturally gifted writers.

You have permission to be exactly who you are. No: let me rephrase that. You have an obligation to yourself to be exactly who you are. In all of its messy glory. Yes, of course, give them a glimpse of "your best self." But know that "best self" includes tough self-examination, acknowledgement of fails and weak spots as well as pride in what you're good at. It means radical honesty. This is not a performance. This is your education. Finding the right school for who you are does involve leading with... who you are. What you write about isn't the point most of the time. It's nearly always how you do it, and to some extent, why you're doing it. The "whats" tend to sort themselves out. Are you funny? Be funny. Are you salty? Be salty! (Within reason and FOR the right reason, you totally get to do that.) Are you a raging existentialist whose preoccupation with mortality is statistically odd for someone your age? Work it. Whatever your personal freakflag is, now is no time to fly it at half-mast. Or to replace it with that white one that signals to the other side that you've given up the fight.

Once you commit to being who you really are, this process becomes a lot less stressful and a lot more revealing. And hey–sometimes even therapeutic. Oh, and yes: it does make them notice you.

Need permission to be yourself? Hit me up.

143 views0 comments


bottom of page