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September 19, 2006

Writing the Self

Yesterday I worked my first volunteer shift with 826 Michigan, an organization affiliated with 826 Valencia, an organization founded by Dave Eggers in San Francisco to offer free tutoring, particularly in writing, for children aged six to eighteen. Yesterday, 826 put on a college essay writing workshop for seniors at Community High School, Ann Arbor's public alternative school, led by Debbie Merion, who coaches college essays professionally.

It was super cool to be able to take part in this event, and it really wasn't much work at all. Merion went over what a college application essay is, and what it can do, and then had us do some writing exercises, after which I led a small group in sharing these exercises with each other. It was a bit scary to realize that it has already been ten years since I wrote my college application essay. Nevertheless, I still remember what I wrote about: my most prized possession. Through most of my teen years, I had an ongoing collage on one of the walls of my bedroom, consisting of photographs, cards, and magazine clippings. This collage expressed who I was, what I thought, and how I viewed the world. When I was sixteen, my mother and evil stepfather got divorced. We moved into a new apartment, which meant that I had to take down the collage. I put all the in a sweater box, where it probably remains, somewhere. Since the collage had developed organically, putting it back up in the new place just seemed too contrived. For my college admissions essay, I dug this box out, went through its contents, and wrote about it, using the items to express who I was. I guess it worked pretty well, since I got into Pomona!

I actually hated writing this essay and, until yesterday, considered the college application essay one of the most evil pieces of writing ever dreamed up. But yesterday I finally got it: this essay is a chance for a person to ask herself "who am I?" and "what is special about me?" It is not a summary of one's life, but rather a chance to take one incident that captures the essence of what is important to you and write about it in a way that epxpresses that essence. Merion compared such incidents to acorns: just as an acorn contains the entire oak tree, students should choose an incident that contains everything about them that they want the admissions officers to know.

Posted by eklanche at September 19, 2006 09:43 AM

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