College Admissions Essay: A Clinic In Writer’s Block

It’s college essay writing season, which also means that each student is likely running into writer’s blocks. College admission essays fit into the genre of autobiographical, a writing style for which most students are inexperienced. Although, at times, paralyzing writer’s blocks can be resolved by applying the appropriate antidotes. 

Thus, as many college applicant lack an experienced editor, I will share the antidotes that worked in my extensive career in advising students in the college admissions essay writing experience

Common Block #1: “I don’t know where or how to start [drafting].”

As Anne Lamott famously wrote, “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it”, and “All good writers write [terrible first drafts]. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.” So, give yourself permission to write really bad first drafts

Caution: Be careful to collaborate with objective editors if possible, who are conscientious to not interject their own voice or expectations during the rigorous editorial process.

Common Block #2: I’m not unique. How can I distinguish myself from everyone else?” 

No one else on the planet has lived the experience of you. By your very existence, you have a fantastic story just waiting to be told

Often, reviewing what seems ordinary is where students can find topics unique to their experience, thus distinguishing. So, do a thorough inventory of your life experiences. 

Common Block #3: I don’t have sob story to tell. Nothing that ‘bad’ has ever happened to me.” 

Somewhere at sometime, nearly every college applicant (and often their parents) believed the urban myth that tugging on a college admissions officer’s heartstrings will merit them an acceptance letter. 

Tell your own story as it actually happened. Review the milestones, the interconnected links leading to and from the milestones, there’s a narrative available. Be thorough and rigorous in your reflections whether that involves tragedy, comedy or both. 

And in these COVID times:

Common Block #4: Everyone’s going to write about COVID. I’ll be a cliché.” 

Yes, we’ve all been disrupted for the past eighteen months, seeking our way through a global health crisis. No college applicant is obligated to write about their retreat from what was normal life. However, applicants should trust their instinct, and if they have something to say about their life in a pandemic, then write it. 

A final thought, there is no right or wrong college essay topic. Admissions officers have long counseled me that they want to know a candidate from their own perspective. They want to understand how a young person perceives their past, understands their aptitude, and envisions how they will contribute to our shared humanity.  Thus, the real opportunity of college essay writing is in applicants coming to know themselves, so they begin adulthood with an indwelling confidence, the rocket booster to propel them into an infinity of new and exciting experiences. 

For more information about how Creative Marbles experts help students and parents navigate the complex college admissions and essay writing process, contact us at Creative Marbles Consultancy

In the month of November, Creative Marbles’ experts will be assisting the current class of students while drafting their complex college essays for a series of deadlines, thus will publish blog posts weekly. Feel free to browse our archives.

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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