Hunter College, New York, NY (English)
Item 1: My background makes me the ideal tutor to assist your child in writing the college application essay. I am a magazine writer, I’m a writing teacher, and back in college I was on an admissions committee, tasked with reading hundreds of college essays.
Item 2: Most high schools students, when approaching the college essay, fail to understand what makes for a great essay.
Item 3: If applicants understood what makes for a great essay, they would also discover that writing the essay is a (somewhat) less onerous task than it might at first appear.
Want to know more about items 1, 2 and 3? Read on!
First off, if your college-bound senior is a bit stressed out over having to write a college application essay, that’s entirely understandable. Communicating who you are to a complete stranger, all in a few hundred words, is a stressful task. Compound that by making the success of the project a possibly decisive factor in getting into the college of your dreams, and it can feel overwhelming.
Maybe I can help. Let’s start by discussing item 2, the idea that most college applicants don’t understand what makes for a great essay.
The fact is, the key to writing a great college application essay is not to write eloquently about oneself.
Yes, that’s not a typo. Eloquence about oneself is not the key.
Instead, the key to writing a great essay is to tell a story. Think of college essay prompts as an invitation that reads, “Dear applicant, telling us who you are is helpful, but telling us how you became who you are is what we really want to hear!” Yet time after time, the essays I read back in my day and the first drafts of essays I receive from my tutees currently, spend the bulk of the allotted word count on the “who” and not enough on the “how.”
Look at it from the point of view of the grad student who as a member of the admissions committee is tasked with reading 50 essays on a Saturday night. Although the reader is interested to know the applicant’s opinion of themselves, it is after all, just somebody’s opinion. And a biased one at that.
A story, on the other hand, illustrates to the admissions reader why the opinion is warranted. That’s because it’s a story that will offer the reader a glimpse into how the applicant thinks, their personality, even their sense of humor. As a result, the reader won’t be thinking, “Why should I take a stranger’s word for it when they tell me they are ‘talented, wonderful and unique?’” Instead, they’ll be thinking, “Based on the story I’ve just read, I’m convinced that this applicant couldn’t possibly be anything but talented, wonderful and unique! I’m going to pass this essay along to my superiors stamped ‘highly recommended.’”
What about item 3? The idea that college essays don’t have to be such a chore? I’ve found that as soon as an applicant understands that a story can, and should, be a big part of their essay, they immediately have a happier answer to the question, “Will I ever get around to writing my essay?” Or, similarly, “finishing my essay?”
That’s because, unless one is an egotistical bore, most of us don’t feel comfortable talking about ourselves and your child likely feels the same way. After writing down just a few sentences that contain phrases like “I work hard and I’m very empathetic,” we even start to bore ourselves.
But everyone can tell a story. Not only that, given a receptive and encouraging audience, most of us enjoy telling our stories. Despite possibly thinking “I have no stories to tell,” all of us are chock-full of stories. And they are memorable!
As your child’s college essay tutor, I am that “receptive and encouraging audience.” In fact, as to how I approach working with a college applicant, you could say I think of our time together less as a tutoring session and more as an interview session.
I’m good at being “receptive and encouraging” because – as I mentioned in item 1 – I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve interviewed music legends, politicians, even scientists. When I did, every magazine editor I ever worked under told me the same thing: “Don’t get the guy to tell you what he thinks. Get the guy to tell you a story!”
For that reason, the question you’ll most often hear me asking your child will not be, “I like your idea… what can we add to make it a great essay?” Instead you’ll hear me asking, “I love your story… what happened next?” By the way, that’s the same question that I’ve been asking for years of my writing students at the Writers Store, Santa Monica College, and UCLA Extension.
Now, I’m not saying that an essay shouldn’t clearly state all the facts that an applicant wants the college to understand about them. This is particularly true if there’s information about the applicant’s background or circumstances that are outside the norm. Colleges are always looking for diversity. They are also always looking for applicants who face unusual challenges. It’s just that the best way to inform the college includes a story.
Okay, I’ve taken up enough of your time and I appreciate it that you’ve read this lengthy tutor profile. The bottom line: As a magazine writer and as a teacher of writing, I’m expert at sitting with a college applicant – even one who is feeling a bit frustrated by the writing process – and helping them come up with a great essay. I can even usually find a way to make the process interesting. Even fun!
Finally, I know my fee is higher than most of the other tutors. The letters of recommendation I’ve received attest to the fact that I’ve produced results. I’m betting that, especially given the importance of the college essay, you will end up agreeing with me that there are those times when spending a little more is a wise investment. Item 1: My background makes me the ideal tutor to assist your child in writing the college application essay. I am a magazine writer, I’m a writing teacher, and back in college I was on an admissions committee, tasked with reading hundreds of college essays.
Item 2: Most high schools students, when approaching the college essay, fail to
With great pleasure I would like to write a review for Jonathan S., who was hired to help my daughter with her essays for her UC application. My daughter was struggling to come up with a topic for the essays. Jonathan was very creative in helping her come up with ideas and worked fast to help her with the themes for the essays. He is very enthusiastic about the work and that rubbed off on my daughter. He communicates very well, is easy to work with and made the sessions fun for my daughter.
Jonathon was always very responsive to my emails and phone calls and delivered when he said would. I would highly recommend Jonathon to anyone who needs help with writing skills. Even though Jonathon's charges are higher, it's well worth it and I wouldn't think twice about hiring him in the future if my younger daughter needs help in the writing area.
In most cases, tutors gain approval in a subject by passing a proficiency exam. For some subject areas, like music and art, tutors submit written requests to demonstrate their proficiency to potential students. If a tutor is interested but not yet approved in a subject, the subject will appear in non-bold font. Tutors need to be approved in a subject prior to beginning lessons.
Thanks for reading my profile. Now that you’ve found your way to this page, if you have the time, I’d like to offer you some specific examples of what a tutoring session with me would include. As I mentioned in my profile, the fact that back in college I was on an admissions committee gives me a nuts and bolts understanding of the do’s and don'ts of the college application essay. Now, of course, in every essay, you have to clearly state all the facts that an applicant wants the college to understand about them. But no matter what information you want to share, when I’m working with a student, as I stressed in my profile, the biggest “do” is that the applicant should be looking for a way to convey the particulars via a story.
So, here’s how that might play out. Let’s say a student says to me, “My background as a first-generation American is so important to me.” In response, I’ll probably say something like, “Well, do you remember when that first occurred to you?” Often the student will respond, “Oh, I’ve just always liked reading about the country my parents came from.” I’ll respond, “Well, when was the first time you thought, ‘I’d like to know about my parent’s home country?’” (Yes, I’m a bit of a noodge.) Then – and I’m condensing here a conversation that might take 10 or 15 minutes – the student might say, “Wow, you know, I remember when I was 9 and our family had a barbecue… because my uncle had just arrived in the country… And, oh yes, I just remembered, my uncle brought a dessert to the barbecue that I’d never even heard of before! And, it was so delicious. And, I thought, ‘Well, if my parent’s country has a dessert that is even better than ice cream, that’s awesome!‘ Of course, I was only 9 then, and now I know so much about my culture, but it was that dessert that first got me curious to find out!”
And, suddenly, we’ve located the words that communicate the “why” and “how” of the student’s identity in a way that’s more convincing and memorable than the information alone. The admissions reader now knows more than just the basic facts about the applicant, they have an insight into the student’s thinking process, their personality, even their sense of humor.
The applicant might even decide to begin the essay with the sentence, “It all started with ice cream.” That will get the admissions reader excited to read the essay because they’ll be wondering, “Huh? How could caring about one’s cultural identity start off with ice cream?”
By the way, I do hope that reading the above illuminates for you why, when writing an application essay, focusing on a story is a big “do.” But you don’t have to take my word for it. The idea is right there on the homepage of the common app website, on the page titled “The Common Application Announces 2017 – 2018 Essay Prompts.” Check it out, in bolded lettering, “You have a story to tell. Colleges want to read it.”
To wrap up, my background as a writer for magazines is key to the process of assisting a student in coming up with a memorable story. That’s because, as I mentioned in my profile, for years I’ve been “prompting” all sorts of famous folks to tell me their stories. Likewise, my background as a writing teacher is essential. For years I’ve also been assisting experienced writers in not only choosing the right words, but also how to do so without burying a reader in overly mannered writing. That’s important when it comes working with a college applicant because a big “don’t” of the college essay is to not write in such a way that the essay sounds forced or overly “writerly.” Instead – another big “do” – the applicant should write their essay using words and phrases that cause the reader to think, “I’m hearing how this applicant really speaks.”
Lastly, I am entirely enthusiastic about working with high school seniors, most of who are new to writing a personal essay. As to why, that I can explain in one word, “surprise.” I love being surprised by the limitless variety of points of view, and yes, the stories, I hear from students. Just as importantly, I am endlessly delighted when I work with a student and the student concludes the process by saying something like the following: “Wow, I learned so much from doing this! Both about writing and about myself. And as for what I accomplished, I surprised myself!”