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(NACAC 2015) Five College Essay Questions Every Counselor Should Be Able to Help Their Students Answer

Pre-Conference Session delivered Oct. 1, 2015
by

Ethan Sawyer

on 27 July 2016

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Transcript of (NACAC 2015) Five College Essay Questions Every Counselor Should Be Able to Help Their Students Answer

ethan@collegeessayguy.com
Remember: you are unique.
Just like everyone else.
- Tom Robbins
Ethan Sawyer, College Essay Guy
Getting Acquainted vs. Getting Real

Four Conversation Starters That Are Better Than “How are you?”

1. Celebrations
2. If you really knew me...
3. Gratitude Exchange
4. Check-in
“Um, this is pretty touchy-feely, Ethan.”
My Core Counseling Values
Listening

"Being listened to is so close to being loved
that most people can’t tell the difference.”
- David Augsberg
Unconditional positive regard
Accurate empathy
Yes, and
Student-Centered Counseling
Taking Risks
Silence
How to Work With a Student Who Comes in With Nothing
(aka: Starting from Scratch)
Some things to do in the first half hour:
Improvise
Try the “Getting real” games (above)
Talk about Essence Objects or Values Exercise. Ask "Why?"
Create a Timeline of Your Life, a “21 Details” List, a “Stuff You Should Know About Me” List (See Session 2)
Ask questions: What was the toughest thing you’ve ever had to deal with? What makes you feel safe? Be creative.
Get curious.
Stumped? Google: "College Essay Guy's 100 Brave and Interesting Questions."
Some things to do at the halfway point:
Check-in. How's it going? (You can actually ask this aloud.)
Then perhaps:
a. Keep doing what you’re doing.
b. Do something completely different.
or:
c. Brainstorm a Type B essay outline.
Some ways to end the session:
Check-in. “How was this for you?”
Track the session.
Discuss next steps.
Have student set deadline for action item(s).
Email deadline then and there (so you don't forget).
How to work with a student who comes in with
something...
“Tell me your essay.”
Why I love this exercise:
Hearing something is different from reading it.
(See: Chekhov)
It’s a second draft.
Chance to ask:
Is this the right clay?
Read the essay aloud.
How to Set Someone (More) at Ease with Reading a First Draft Aloud
It doesn’t have to be perfect. This is the “before” shot.
Listen from the perspective of an admissions officer.
Ask simply: Does
the essay
answer the question? (Note the phrasing.)
After reading the essay aloud, ask:
1. Does the essay answer the prompt?
2. What do you like about the essay?
3. What do you think needs work?
4. Make a list of Pros and Cons
Bullet point the list
Ask: Anything else?
Why I love this method:
1. It's a chance to gather more information.
2. It gives me time to process my thoughts.
3. Most students know what’s wrong with their essay.
4. I want my students to learn to do this for themselves.
Revising the First Draft
First ask...

Are we molding with the right clay?
If not...
If so...
How to Revise a First Draft in Five Steps
Look at the first lines of each paragraph from:
Example Essay A (On Debate) or
Example Essay B (Endodontics)

...notice anything?
How can this help you write a better essay?
Like this...
1. Go through the essay and highlight
the first lines of each paragraph in bold.

Then...
2. Read these bolded lines aloud.
3. Write a new outline in which
all the lines flow together.

Note: the lines can be
aspirational
.
4. Rewrite your paragraphs so that each paragraph expands upon the new bolded (topic) sentences.
*Frankenstein warning.
5. Step away from the essay for at least 30 minutes.
A Quick Note on How to Receive Feedback




• Any physical or learning disabilities (diagnosed by a health professional; specify what and how long)
• Any potential "red flags" on application, including low grades, classes or activities dropped, important school changes
• Single-parent household
• Significant work hours while in HS, particularly if student contributed to family income to help pay bills
• Extraordinary extracurricular accomplishments on state or national level
• Any research involvement, particularly if student was published
• Low income family or large family with many dependents, which strains family income
• If student is first generation in family to attend college
• Parents’ disability or unemployment (specify what and how long)
• Language spoken at home if other than English, or if any portion of student’s high school career was taken outside of US
(adapted from a list created with a friend and colleague who reads for the UCs)
If none...
First, check out this list of...

Things Students Should Probably Write About
HW (before next session):
1. Meet with your writing or mentor to discuss your essay draft.
1 hr session is good. If helping each other, decide if you'll do:
(1) 2-hr session or
(2) separate 1-hr sessions (recommended)
2. Set action items and a deadline for the next draft:
What will you send and by when?

If you feel the essay isn't revealing much about the student, ask:

What do you learn about the author from the essay?
Examples of essay foci that don't reveal much:
(history) "Basketball is a sport that was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith in Springfield, MA..."

(someone else) "My grandfather came to this country with only $20 in his pocket and a dream to make a better life for himself and his family. He worked in a factory..."

(abstract idea) "Many people believe that intelligence is ineffable and that attempts to describe it are futile. But here's my attempt..." (Exception: supplemental essays)
The solution?

Make it
personal
.

(It is, after all, a
personal
statement.)
While student is saying what s/he thinks about the essay...
Ask: do they flow together?
Important: do this from scratch*.
Then come back and read it aloud.
Mirroring
What if you feel the essay isn't revealing much about the author?
The "Endodontics" or "Machines" Essay (Type B)

As a kid I was always curious.
I was unafraid to ask questions and didn’t worry how dumb they would make me sound. In second grade I enrolled in a summer science program and built a solar-powered oven that baked real cookies. I remember obsessing over the smallest details: Should I paint the oven black to absorb more heat? What about its shape? A spherical shape would allow for more volume, but would it trap heat as well as conventional rectangular ovens? Even then I was obsessed with the details of design.

And it didn’t stop in second grade.

A few years later I designed my first pair of shoes, working for hours to perfect each detail, including whether the laces should be mineral white or diamond white.
Even then I sensed that minor differences in tonality could make a huge impact and that different colors could evoke different responses.

In high school I moved on to more advanced projects, teaching myself how to take apart, repair, and customize cell phones.
Whether I was adjusting the flex cords that connect the IPS LCD to the iPhone motherboard, or replacing the vibrator motor, I loved discovering the many engineering feats Apple overcame in its efforts to combine form with function.

And once I obtained my driver’s license, I began working on cars.
Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch, as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.

My love of details applies to my schoolwork too.

I’m the math geek who marvels at the fundamental theorems of Calculus, or who sees beauty in A=(s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c))^(1/2).
Again, it’s in the details: one bracket off or one digit missing and the whole equation collapses. And details are more than details, they can mean the difference between negative and positive infinity, an impossible range of solutions.

I also love sharing this appreciation with others and have taken it upon myself to personally eradicate mathonumophobiconfundosis, my Calculus teacher’s term for “extreme fear of Math.”
A small group of other students and I have devoted our after-school time to tutoring our peers in everything from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus B/C and I believe my fluency in Hebrew and Farsi has helped me connect with some of my school’s Israeli and Iranian students. There’s nothing better than seeing a student solve a difficult problem without me saying anything.

You probably think I want to be a designer. Or perhaps an engineer?

Wrong. Well, kind of.

Actually, I want to study Endodontics, which is (I’ll save you the Wikipedia look-up) a branch of dentistry that deals with the tooth pulp and the tissues surrounding the root of a tooth
. As an Endodontist, I’ll be working to repair damaged teeth by performing precision root canals and implementing dental crowns. Sound exciting? It is to me.

The fact is, it’s not unlike the work I’ve been doing repairing cellphone circuits and modifying cars, though there is one small difference
. In the future I’ll still be working to repair machines, but this machine is one of the most sophisticated machines ever created: the human body. Here, my obsession with details will be as crucial as ever. A one millimeter difference can mean the difference between a successful root canal and a lawsuit.

The question is: will the toothbrushes I hand out be mineral white or diamond white?
If you're still struggling to find your topic...
Guided Meditation: Finding Your Essay Topic
More ideas:
Morning Pages (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way)
Tried brainstorming with a partner yet? Try it.
Didn’t work? Try someone else.
Pick something and start writing.
Got your topic, but unsure of the structure or flow?
Do the "How to Revise Your Essay in 5 Steps" exercise from Session 3
Next, get feedback from someone else. Didn’t help? Try someone else.
Keep revising! Fourth draft. Fifth draft. You'll get there.
Once you’ve tried these things (and you must promise you have) you might try uploading your fourth or fifth draft to a Google doc and sharing it with me, Ethan, via email. I’ll email you back. Really.
I will email you a PDF:

How to Write Each of the Four Types of Essays:
A Step-by-Step Guide
Five Ways to Bring Your College Essay to Life:
Mediocre Advice Made Better
Mediocre Piece of Advice #1:
"Choose a great opening!"
Better Advice:
Begin with
A Problem that Must Be Solved
Example 1: The Porcelain God Essay

"Bowing down to the porcelain god, I emptied the contents of my stomach. Foaming at the mouth, I was ready to pass out. My body couldn’t stop shaking as I gasped for air, and the room started spinning."
Example 2: The "I Shot My Brother" Essay

From page 54 of the maroon notebook sitting on my mahogany desk:

“Then Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me.”
-Genesis 4:13

Here is a secret that no one in my family knows: I shot my brother when I was six. Luckily, it was a BB gun. But to this day, my older brother Jonathan does not know who shot him. And I have finally promised myself to confess this eleven year old secret to him after I write this essay.
The "Rock, Paper, Scissors" Essay
Prompt:
Dear Christian, the admissions staff at the University of Chicago would like to inform you that your application has been “put on the line.” We have one spot left and can’t decide if we should admit you or another equally qualified applicant. To resolve the matter, please choose one of the following:

Rock, paper, or scissors.

You will be notified of our decision shortly.

Response:
Rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock. Wait... paper beats rock? Since when has a sheet of loose leaf paper ever defeated a solid block of granite? Do we assume that the paper wraps around the rock, smothering the rock into submission? When exposed to paper, is rock somehow immobilized, unable to fulfill its primary function of smashing scissors? What constitutes defeat between two inanimate objects?
Mediocre Piece of Advice #2:
"Show, don't tell."
Better advice:

Show first,
then
tell.
Example of a nice "show"

Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing a car’s standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch.
Example of "show" followed by "tell":

Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch,
as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.
The “show” demonstrates you’re a talented writer.
The “tell” demonstrates you’re a critical thinker.
Be both.
The value of show before tell:

Version A:
Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch,
as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.

Version B:
I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art
which is why many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch.
Mediocre Piece of Advice #3:
"Write what you know."
Better advice:

Use
geeky language
.
Example 1:
The first project that I was involved with investigated the extraintestinal manifestations of IBD. Patients who suffer from IBD often have diseases called extraintestinal manifestations that also affect multiple other organ systems and can be just as, if not more debilitating than the intestinal inflammation itself. My contribution involved examining data in Dr. Shih's clinical database, which led me to discover that the skin is one of the most commonly affected organ systems in patients who suffer from IBD. I contributed to Dr. Shih’s review article to give an overview of the types of skin diseases typically seen with IBD and their respective pathogenesis, proposed mechanisms, and treatments, and my contributions were significant enough to earn recognition as a second author.
Example 2:
Through switch-side policy debate I not only discuss a multitude of competing ideas, but also argue from both sides of widely disputed issues. By equipping me with Protagoras’ antilogic and Dissoi Logoi, switch-side policy debate has provided me with a forum to cultivate a diversity of intellectual perspectives that has informed my own intellectual growth.
Example 3:
I’m the math geek who marvels at the fundamental theorems of Calculus, or who sees beauty in A=(s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c))^(1/2). Again, it’s in the details: one bracket off or one digit missing and the whole equation collapses. And details are more than details, they can mean the difference between negative and positive infinity, an impossible range of solutions.
Mediocre Piece of Advice #4:
"Use lots of details."
Better advice:

"Use the
right
details."
But wait:
Which are the right details?
Those that in the larger context of the story illustrate a paragraph's essential point
How to determine a paragraph's essential point?
First, use the "Revising Your Essay in 5 Steps" Exercise
Then decide which detail(s) will work best
Beware of spending time perfecting the
wrong
details
What makes a detail “wrong”?
It illustrates a minor or tangential point that will eventually get cut, or
It illustrates a point that could be stronger and will eventually get cut
Example 1:
A detail illustrating a minor or tangential point that will eventually get cut

“I learned the importance of teamwork in elementary school when I worked with my friends to do a parody of Pokemon.”
Before asking: “
Which
detail should I use?”
Ask: “Why am I choosing
this
detail?”
Example 2:
A detail illustrating a point that could be stronger and will eventually get cut

"Drops of sweat roll down our faces like glass beads as Nicole accuses Allison for the third time in a row. Without missing a beat, Ally retorts: “Believe me Nicole, if I was Mafia, you’d be dead by now.” All eyes turn to Nicole running with suspicion; she knew she was in peril now. This… is Mafia."
Mediocre Piece of Advice #5:
"Finish strong!"
Better advice:

Aim for an ending that’s
surprising, but inevitable
.
The "I Shot My Brother" Essay

From page 54 of the maroon notebook sitting on my mahogany desk:

“Then Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me.” - Genesis 4:13

Here is a secret that no one in my family knows: I shot my brother when I was six. Luckily, it was a BB gun. But to this day, my older brother Jonathan does not know who shot him. And I have finally promised myself to confess this eleven year old secret to him after I write this essay.

The truth is, I was always jealous of my brother. Our grandparents, with whom we lived as children in Daegu, a rural city in South Korea, showered my brother with endless accolades: he was bright, athletic, and charismatic.

“Why can’t you be more like Jon?” my grandmother used to nag, pointing at me with a carrot stick. To me, Jon was just cocky. He would scoff at me when he would beat me in basketball, and when he brought home his painting of Bambi with the teacher’s sticker “Awesome!” on top, he would make several copies of it and showcase them on the refrigerator door. But I retreated to my desk where a pile of “Please draw this again and bring it to me tomorrow” papers lay, desperate for immediate treatment. Later, I even refused to attend the same elementary school and wouldn’t even eat meals with him.

Deep down I knew I had to get the chip off my shoulder. But I didn’t know how.

That is, until March 11th, 2001.

That day around six o’clock, juvenile combatants appeared in Kyung Mountain for their weekly battle, with cheeks smeared in mud and empty BB guns in their hands. The Korean War game was simple: to kill your opponent you had to shout “pow!” before he did. Once we situated ourselves, our captain blew the pinkie whistle and the war began. My friend Min-young and I hid behind a willow tree, eagerly awaiting our orders.

Beside us, our comrades were dying, each falling to the ground crying in “agony,” their hands clasping their “wounds.” Suddenly a wish for heroism surged within me: I grabbed Min-young’s arms and rushed towards the enemies’ headquarters, disobeying our orders to remain sentry duty. To tip the tide of the war, I had to kill their captain. We infiltrated the enemy lines, narrowly dodging each attack. We then cleared the pillars of asparagus ferns until the Captain’s lair came into view. I quickly pulled my clueless friend back into the bush.

Hearing us, the alarmed captain turned around: It was my brother.

He saw Min-young’s right arm sticking out from the bush and hurled a “grenade,” (a rock), bruising his arm.

“That’s not fair!” I roared in the loudest and most unrecognizable voice I could manage.

Startled, the Captain and his generals abandoned their post. Vengeance replaced my wish for heroism and I took off after the fleeing perpetrator. Streams of sweat ran down my face and I pursued him for several minutes until suddenly I was arrested by a small, yellow sign that read in Korean: DO NOT TRESPASS: Boar Traps Ahead. (Two summers ago, my five year old cousin, who insisted on joining the ranks, had wandered off-course during the battle; we found him at the bottom of a 20 ft deep pit with a deep gash in his forehead and shirt soaked in blood) “Hey, stop!” I shouted, heart pounding. “STOP!” My mind froze. My eyes just gazed at the fleeing object; what should I do?

I looked on as my shivering hand reached for the canister of BBs. The next second, I heard two shots followed by a cry. I opened my eyes just enough to see two village men carrying my brother away from the warning sign. I turned around, hurled my BB gun into the nearby Kyung Creek and ran home as fast as I could.

* * *

Days passed. My brother and I did not talk about the incident.

‘Maybe he knew it was me,’ I thought in fear as I tried to eavesdrop on his conversation with grandpa one day. When the door suddenly opened, I blurted, “Is anything wrong?”

“Nothing,” he said pushing past me, “Just a rough sleep.”

But in the next few weeks, something was happening inside me.

All the jealousy and anger I’d once felt had been replaced by a new feeling: guilt.

That night when my brother was gone I went to a local store and bought a piece of chocolate taffy, his favorite. I returned home and placed it on my brother’s bed with a note attached: “Love, Grandma.”

Several days later, I secretly went into his room and folded his unkempt pajamas.

Then, other things began to change. We began sharing clothes (something we had never done), started watching Pokémon episodes together, and then, on his ninth birthday, I did something with Jon that I hadn’t done in six years: I ate dinner with him. I even ate fishcakes, which he loved but I hated. And I didn’t complain.

Today, my brother is one of my closest friends. Every week I accompany him to Carlson Hospital where he receives treatment for his obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. While in the waiting room, we play a noisy game of Zenga, comment on the Lakers’ performance or listen to the radio on the registrar’s desk.

Then, the door to the doctor’s office opens.

“Jonathan Lee, please come in.”

I tap his shoulder and whisper, “Rock it, bro.”

After he leaves, I take out my notebook and begin writing where I left off.

Beside me, the receptionist’s fingers hover over the radio in search of a new station, eventually settling on one. I hear LeAnn Rimes singing “Amazing Grace.” Her voice slowly rises over the noise of the bustling room.

“’Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved...”

Smiling, I open Jon’s Jansport backpack and neatly place this essay inside and a chocolate taffy with a note attached.

Twenty minutes have passed when the door abruptly opens.

“Guess what the doctor just said?” my brother cries, unable to hide his exhilaration.

I look up and I smile too.
Four Qualities of an Amazing Essay
1. The story is unusual in either content, structure or both
2. A “wow” moment
3. The ending is both surprising and inevitable
4. The ending makes the reader do a little bit of work
The "Dead Bird" Essay
Smeared blood, shredded feathers. Clearly, the bird was dead. But wait, the slight fluctuation of its chest, the slow blinking of its shiny black eyes. No, it was alive.
I had been typing an English essay when I heard my cat's loud meows and the flutter of wings. I had turned slightly at the noise and had found the barely breathing bird in front of me.
The shock came first. Mind racing, heart beating faster, blood draining from my face. I instinctively reached out my hand to hold it, like a long-lost keepsake from my youth. But then I remembered that birds had life, flesh, blood.
Death. Dare I say it out loud? Here, in my own home?
Within seconds, my reflexes kicked in. Get over the shock. Gloves, napkins, towels. Band-aid? How does one heal a bird? I rummaged through the house, keeping a wary eye on my cat. Donning yellow rubber gloves, I tentatively picked up the bird. Never mind the cat's hissing and protesting scratches, you need to save the bird. You need to ease its pain.
But my mind was blank. I stroked the bird with a paper towel to clear away the blood, see the wound. The wings were crumpled, the feet mangled. A large gash extended close to its jugular rendering its breathing shallow, unsteady. The rising and falling of its small breast slowed. Was the bird dying? No, please, not yet.
Why was this feeling so familiar, so tangible?
Oh. Yes. The long drive, the green hills, the white church, the funeral. The Chinese mass, the resounding amens, the flower arrangements. Me, crying silently, huddled in the corner. The Hsieh family huddled around the casket. Apologies. So many apologies. Finally, the body lowered to rest. The body. Kari Hsieh. Still familiar, still tangible.
Hugging Mrs. Hsieh, I was a ghost, a statue. My brain and my body competed. Emotion wrestled with fact. Kari Hsieh, aged 17, my friend of four years, had died in the Chatsworth Metrolink Crash on Sep. 12, 2008. Kari was dead, I thought. Dead.
But I could still save the bird.
My frantic actions heightened my senses, mobilized my spirit. Cupping the bird, I ran outside, hoping the cool air outdoors would suture every wound, cause the bird to miraculously fly away. Yet there lay the bird in my hands, still gasping, still dying. Bird, human, human, bird. What was the difference? Both were the same. Mortal.
But couldn't I do something? Hold the bird longer, de-claw the cat? I wanted to go to my bedroom, confine myself to tears, replay my memories, never come out.
The bird's warmth faded away. Its heartbeat slowed along with its breath. For a long time, I stared thoughtlessly at it, so still in my hands.
Slowly, I dug a small hole in the black earth. As it disappeared under handfuls of dirt, my own heart grew stronger, my own breath more steady.
The wind, the sky, the dampness of the soil on my hands whispered to me, “The bird is dead. Kari has passed. But you are alive.” My breath, my heartbeat, my sweat sighed back, “I am alive. I am alive. I am alive.”
Q: When is it okay to scrap what you have and start over?
A: Whenever you want.
"Sacrifice the essay of yesterday to the essay of tomorrow."
- Me
Need more inspiration?
Check out the "Get inspired" page:





HW:
In the next 72 hrs: meet to discuss the second draft
In that session: set an action item and a deadline
Before next webinar: email the third draft
Email me (Ethan) with particular questions and issues
The value of show before tell: Example 2

My grandmother’s house is a traditional Korean Giwa House. It has a tiled roof that resembles the glossy scales of a serpent and the wing-shaped ridges of the house make it look as if it will fly away at any time. It is renowned in its town because it is one of the few remaining from the Chosun Dynasty. In fact, people travel from other parts of her town just to see it. They have always appreciated it for its beauty, but many have marveled at certain mysteries. For example, how can such a heavy roof be supported when there are no extra columns inside its living space?
Two years ago, when I began studying Applied Math, I began to understand some of these mysteries when I studied Roman arches. I learned how weight can be distributed in an extremely efficient way and, just as the spine and rib bones protect our vital organs from outside pressure, the girder in my grandmother’s house works like a key stone to support the weight of the roof.
Understanding its structural design gave me a deeper appreciation for its aesthetic beauty.

Five College Essay Questions Counselors Should Be Able to Help Their Students Answer
“There are three things to remember when teaching: know your stuff; know whom you are stuffing; and then stuff them elegantly.”
- Lola May
Five Questions I Get All the Time
1. How do I figure out what to write about?
2. How do I structure my essay?
3. How do I outline my essay?
4. How do I revise my essay?
5. How do I bring my essay to life?
(aka: How do I make it not-boring?)
Describe the
world
you come from and tell us how your world has shaped your
dreams and aspirations
.
Resource #1
Resource #2
157 College Essay Resources
Resources #3-5
My favorite question:
Is this my
deepest
story?
Resource #6
Q: Should I tell a story
of
my life or
from
my life?
Narrative Structure vs. Montage Structure
Narrative Structure: causal connections
Montage Structure: thematic connections
Narrative Structure Example: The “With Debate” Essay*
Status Quo
: I was really shy.
Raising of the Stakes
: I needed to get over it not just for my own sake, but for my parents'. I tried lots of other things and failed.
Inciting Incident
: I joined a Debate Club.
Dénouement
: By high school, I joined the school debate team, began socializing, and was even elected to head several clubs. I developed critical and analytical thinking skills, and learned how to think and speak spontaneously.
New Status Quo
: Four years with debate, now I’m the kid up at the white board; the kid leading discussions; and the kid standing up for her beliefs..
*For the whole essay, see handout or search "With Debate" on the CEG website.
Montage Structure Example: The “Endodontics” Essay
I’ve always been curious.
I’ve been working with my hands for years.
I’ve always been obsessed with details.
I’m a math geek.
I love sharing my knowledge with others.
All these qualities will serve me well in my career as--not an engineer, but--an endodontist (dentist).
*For the whole essay, see handout or search "Endodontics" on the CEG website.
3. How do I outline my essay?
Step 1: Decide on the big chunks.


The six-minute version
Four Challenges and Four Secrets for
Outlining Most Any College Essay:
The Challenge: How do you connect your challenges (past)
to your career (future)?
The Secret: Through your
values.
The Challenge:
How do you demonstrate that you have what it takes to be an excellent [name your career]?
Here's one way:
Reverse engineer your essay by beginning with the end (your career) in mind. How?

Like this: Brainstorm the qualities of an excellent person in your future career (right column). Then describe how you’ve developed these qualities (left column).










Four Types of College Essays
I believe a good college essay should either...

1. Go
deep
, discussing one moment that fundamentally changed your life, or
2. Go
wide
, discussing many different elements of your life.


Narrative Structure
can help you go
deep
.
Montage Structure
can help you go
wide
.
For more, Google: “
College Essay Guy Example B

The Challenge: Once you talk about overcoming your challenges, how do you end the essay?
Secret #1: Again, look to your values
.*

*For an 18-minute video on this, Google:
significant challenges college essay guy video
The Challenge: How do you describe who you are and
what you’ll contribute to a college campus
in an interesting and cohesive way?
...despite the fact you've had no challenges and no particular career in mind?
Option 1: Find a placeholder using
Do What You Are...

...then write a Type B outline (i.e. reverse engineer it).
Three Options
Option 2: Find a framing device based on something you love.
Option 3:







First, decide which qualities you’d like to show.
Then, instead of ending with your future career, end by naming values that will be important to you no matter what career you choose.*
4. How do I revise my essay?
Google:
College Essay Guy: How to Revise Your Essay in 5 Steps
5. How do I bring my essay to life?
(aka: How do I make it not-boring?)
Examples:
I love scrapbooking, so essay might be
The Scrapbook of My Life
I love applied math, so essay might be
How I See the World Through Applied Math
I love traveling and language so essay might be about
How Traveling and Language Have Shaped My Life
5. How do I bring my essay to life?
(aka: How do I make it not-boring?)
Framing Device:

Mediocre Advice Made Better
Mediocre Piece of Advice #1:
"Choose a great opening!"
Better Advice:
Begin with
A Problem that Must Be Solved
Example: The "I Shot My Brother" Essay

From page 54 of the maroon notebook sitting on my mahogany desk:

“Then Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me.”
-Genesis 4:13

Here is a secret that no one in my family knows: I shot my brother when I was six. Luckily, it was a BB gun. But to this day, my older brother Jonathan does not know who shot him. And I have finally promised myself to confess this eleven year old secret to him after I write this essay.
Better advice:
Mediocre Piece of Advice #2:
"Show, don't tell."
Example of a nice "show"

Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing a car’s standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch.
Example of "show" followed by "tell":

Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch,
as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.
The “show” demonstrates you’re a talented writer.
The “tell” demonstrates you’re a critical thinker.
Be both.
Example of the value of "show" before "tell"

The "Applied Math" Essay

My grandmother’s house is a traditional Korean Giwa House. It has a tiled roof that resembles the glossy scales of a serpent and the wing-shaped ridges of the house make it look as if it will fly away at any time. It is renowned in its town because it is one of the few remaining from the Chosun Dynasty. In fact, people travel from other parts of her town just to see it. They have always appreciated it for its beauty, but many have marveled at certain mysteries. For example, how can such a heavy roof be supported when there are no extra columns inside its living space?

Two years ago, when I began studying Applied Math, I began to understand some of these mysteries when I studied Roman arches. I learned how weight can be distributed in an extremely efficient way and, just as the spine and rib bones protect our vital organs from outside pressure, the girder in my grandmother’s house works like a key stone to support the weight of the roof.
Understanding its structural design gave me a deeper appreciation for its aesthetic beauty.
Mediocre Piece of Advice #3:
"Write what you know."
Better advice:
Example from the "Machines" Essay:

I’m the math geek who marvels at the fundamental theorems of Calculus, or who sees beauty in A=(s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c))^(1/2). Again, it’s in the details: one bracket off or one digit missing and the whole equation collapses. And details are more than details, they can mean the difference between negative and positive infinity, an impossible range of solutions.
More free resources!

If asked: What should I be doing right now?

More brainstorming ideas?
Want to connect?
100 Brave and Interesting Questions
Google:
College Essay Guy Objects Exercise
The Values Exercise
157
The Bellagio
Las Vegas, NV
The UC 1 Prompt:
A: Either can work.
Step 2: Depends on the Essay Type.
How to Outline
Any
Essay
*They're with you no matter what career you choose.
Secret #2: Use this three-part structure*
1. Challenges (25%)
2. What I did about it (50%)
3. What I learned (25%)
*For an example, search "scrapbook" on the CEG website
Use
geeky language
.
Session 1: How to Find Your Deepest Story
Session 2: How to Outline the Essay in One Hour
Session 3: How to Give Feedback & How to Revise in 5 Steps
Session 4: Bringing the Essay to Life (or) When to Scrap What You Have and Start Over
Session 5: How to Write the Four Types of Essays (Step-by-Step)
Session 6: Advanced Screenwriting Secrets & Three of My Favorite Essays Ever
If Aristotle taught third grade.
Show first,
then
tell.
www.collegeessayguy.com
Google: "interesting questions"
Six hours step-by-step instructional videos led by me, Ethan Sawyer, the College Essay Guy
130+ pages PDF curriculum
Mp3s, so you can listen/work from anywhere
Work at your own pace
Watch as many times as you want
Student and Counselor Versions
Includes:
Want to watch the first session for free?
Five-Week Online Workshop
Dates: March 15, 22, 29, April 4, 12
BS: Northwestern, Performance Studies
MFA: UC Irvine, Acting
College Counseling Certificate: UC Irvine
Counseling Certificate: Interchange Counseling Institute
10 years: College Application Consultant, Curriculum Writer, Teacher
MBTI Certified
Outreach Coordinator, Elite Prep
Assoc. Counselor at LA Leadership Academy Charter
The College Essay Guy
Ethan Sawyer
Dropping Keys

The small man
builds cages for everyone
he
knows.

While the sage,
who has to duck his head
when the moon is low,
keeps dropping keys all night long
for the
beautiful
rowdy
prisoners.

- Hafiz
Who am I?
Webinar Sessions:
1. Using the Secret of Screenwriting to Brainstorm and Structure the Personal Statement
2. How to Outline the Personal Statement in One Hour
3. Giving Feedback & How to Refine the Outline Before the Second Draft
4. Bringing the Essay to Life with Details & Color, or When to Start Over
5. Practicum: Addressing Your Students' Particular Issues

Bonus: The Three Best Essays I've Ever Read
Want to connect?


Download it.
Print it.
2.
3. Download the app.
157
5. College Essay Potluck: next!
2:35-3:35pm
Rm. A13

4. NACAC Pre-Conference
Oct. 3, 2015

Type your email into the iPad and I'll send
you my brainstorming PDF resource.
(the 3-hr. version)
Oct. 12-16, 5-6:30pm PST
One Week Online
Common App Workshop
For Students & Counselors
Second resource for making your essay, like, "deep":
The "So What" Exercise (also in your handout)

The Great College Essay Test
1. Core Values (aka Information)

Test: Can you name at least 5-7 of the author's core values?

AND: Do you detect a
variety
of values, or do the values repeat?

· Examples of NOT varied values: hard work, determination perseverance (how are these different?)

· Examples of more varied values: autonomy, resourcefulness, healthy boundaries, diversity
2. Vulnerability

Test: Does my essay sound like it’s mostly analytical or like it’s coming from a deeper, more vulnerable place?

Another way of asking this: Does it sound like it came from my head (intellect) or my heart and gut?

AND: After reading my essay, do you know more about me AND feel closer to me?

3. “So what” moments (aka Important & interesting connections)

Test: Can you identify at least 3-5 “so what” moments of insight in the essay?

AND: Are these moments kind of predictable, or are they truly illuminating?

4. Craft

Test: Were you riveted the entire time you read the essay? If not, where specifically did you lose interest?

Bonus Question #2: How do I make my essay, like,
deep
?

Resource 1: Set up a Want vs. Need dynamic
For examples: See "With Debate" and "Burying Grandma" essays in your handout.
Let's do this exercise together!
Bonus Question #3: How do I make sure my essay is doing its job? (or) How do I make sure my essay is, like, really good?
What
is
the job of the college essay?
IMHO: The college essay should demonstrate how a student will make valuable contributions on a college campus and beyond.
But...
What qualities demonstrate this?
And how in the world would we test for this?
For fun (3-min. exercise):
If, God forbid, you were in charge of creating a rubric for scoring college essays what 3-5 elements would you look for?
After reviewing a bunch of GREAT essays, here are some qualities that most have in common:
Information (aka core values)
Vulnerability
"So what" moments (important and interesting connections)
Craft
Let's revise some essays together!
*Feel free to use your own students' essays.
Or see handout for two essay drafts.

Quick review of what we've discussed so far:

How do I figure out what to write about?
- Objects & Values Exercises
How do I structure my essay?
- Narrative vs. Montage Structure
How do I outline my essay?
- How to Write Each Type (6-min. version)
How do I revise my essay?
- Five Steps to Revising Your Essay (Google it)
How do I make my essay, like, not boring?
- Four Pieces of Mediocre Advice Made Better
We also discussed:
How do I create a safe space for brainstorming?
- Google it
How do I make my essay, like, deep?
- Want vs. Need (or) "So what" exercise
How do I know if my essay is, like, good?
- The Great Essay Test
Break time.
Just 5-7 minutes, please!

(www.collegeessayguy.com)
BUT--and this is important--these criteria are only useful if they help point us to specific and creative solutions.
So...
College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful Personal Statement


FYI: I'll be at the Sourcebooks booth today (Thurs) 1:30-3pm
Coming Spring 2016
Pre-work I give to all my students:

1. Objects Exercise
2. Values Exercise
3. 21 Details Exercise
4. The "Everything I Want Colleges to Know About Me" Exercise
5. Do What You Are (through Humanesources)
"Chunks" for the "With Debate" essay:

I was shy.
I joined debate.
I came out of my shell. (Oh, and I developed all these awesome values and qualities that will serve me in my career as X.)
"Chunks" for the Endodontics Essay:
Curiosity
Good with hands
Meticulous
Helping others
Why Dentist
Thank you!
Full transcript