College essay writing often requires an (re)education in the art of Autobiographical writing

Every year, I remediate high school seniors’ and transfer applicants’ writing process. After elementary school, few teachers explicitly teach the writing process. Instead, teachers assign scripted “Essays”, hemming students into following a rubric (or risk a lower grade), based on a narrow prompt, replete with requirements of specific numbers of quotes or citations, and strict word limits. 

Students make few editorial choices, not even (sometimes) the content of their essay, especially as savvy students learn to “read” the teacher, hear the context clues, and write whatever narrative will likely align with the teacher’s view. Few students dain to express ideas (despite their convictions) which contradict the teacher’s, or risk their grades (thus possibly inciting a parental rebuke.)

So, when drafting college essays, where students are required to write their biography, necessitating writing in their own voice, with an original narrative, many students recognize their lack of confidence in their own ideas and their own style of writing. Many instead seek the seeming confirmation of their ideas, just like a school writing assignment, anxiously guessing what the admissions officer may want. 

Often, many students (and more so their parents) are surprised by such deficiencies in their writing, having earned A’s in English courses, assuming they were competent at expressing ideas in writing. Thus, many add complexity to the college essay writing process in emotion which must also be addressed to continue developing autobiographical narratives

Thus, each fall and winter, I (re)teach students the writing process: Brainstorm, Draft, Edit, Review, Re-draft, Review, Re-draft, repeat, with each essay, developed through 10-20 drafts, until the student is confident the admissions reader will understand their experience, a process that depending on their college selections can take up to 80 hours of editorial support.

So, with consistent and competent editorial advising, plus a willingness, grounded by humility, students not only gain confidence in their own experience, they are more practiced in the art of written communication, an ability which will serve them not only in college but throughout their life.

Creative Marbles was founded by teachers who appreciate helping students craft insightful essays, first in the academic classroom, now as part of the complex college admissions process. For more information, please contact us

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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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