I was recently interviewed for an article in the Los Angeles Times “Mind and Body Section” (okay, the writer is a friend of mine) about writing as therapy. The writer wanted to know if I thought writing the college application essay could be therapeutic for high school seniors. My initial response: You have to remember, no high school senior ever woke up in the morning and said, “Wow, today I get to write my college application essays.”

Of course, students are well aware of what’s at stake and, for the most part, they step up, work hard and do a great job. Unavoidably, however, the essay is often viewed like a trip to the dentist – critical to one’s future well being, not exactly a fun time. Yet it does not have to be that way.

At its best, writing college application essays can be a student’s chance to find out what he or she didn’t know they didn’t know about themselves. And, no, that’s not a typo. “Didn’t know they didn’t know” implies a whole new way of looking at things, an aligning of events and their impact that might not have been previously explored. The phrase may be overused but in this case it’s appropriate: Writing the college essay can be a journey of discovery.

Creating incisive college essays can give depth and meaning to events in students’ lives, focus their values, even help them figure out who they are and what they believe. This can become a profound experience for students, especially those who have not yet dealt with those issues. It also makes the overall task more appealing. Everyone likes to learn more about “me.”

To make this actually happen, students must develop their essays with patience, honesty, and courage. Cynicism or having pre-conceived notions about what will “work” should be scrupulously avoided. Although this approach might take a bit more time and effort, the benefits will make it worthwhile. Students will write better essays, increase their chances of acceptance and, ideally, experience a moment or two of self-revelation they can take with them to college, and beyond.

For more personal help with the Common Application essay and all supplemental college admissions essays contact Craig Heller directly at 818-340-1276 or [email protected].


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