Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Writing Assignment

As the new school year begins, college-bound seniors are faced with what is likely the most challenging writing assignment they've ever had: the application essay. Even in its friendliest form on the common ap, the task is daunting. At the ripe old age of seventeen or eighteen, how does a kid sum up the best of his/her personality, indicate his/her future goals and aspirations, and write a bang-up, reader-grabbing narrative in 500 words?
As a tutor, I've seen confident, well-adjusted, highly intelligent students sweat, squirm, and quiver on the verge of tears with frustration as they grapple with this essay. Fortunately, I've also seen many of them produce dynamite stuff that gives me hope for the future of fine writing, even as I feel slightly intimidated by their abilities. Was I that self-aware at their age? I doubt it. I have no recollection of the essay, the ACT, the SAT, or all the other hoops kids have to jump through these days to put themselves and/or their parents in a serious financial commitment with the ever-dwindling hope of being gainfully employed someday.
Last week, as I sat across the tutorial table from yet another youngster writhing over which of the six questions on the common application to tackle (including "Topic of your choice"), I began to wonder what I would write about if I were given the assignment. Whatever I chose, it had to be something from the first seventeen years of my life. The playing field should be level. No reflections on several decades worth of existence on this planet, marriage, parenthood, or anything else absolutely beyond the scope of a typical teenager.
Five days later, I finally discovered my "topic," and I have to say even that first step in the process makes for some interesting introspection. And writing about oneself without being a colossal bore is quite the challenge. I wonder, how many admissions officers have ever put themselves to this test?
As for my essay, it's going kind of slowly. I'm on the third draft. Hey, I have until January. I'll get it done.

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