"Is It Easy Being Green?": Writing the New College Application Essay

by Justin Nevin

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781492603771
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 09/18/2014
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

A native of Southern California, Justin Nevin holds degrees from UC Santa Barbara and The University of Chicago. He has taught literature and writing at the high school level since 2006 and at the college level since 2012, and began advising college applicants in 2007. Interested in academic studies of literature, writing, and education, he is now working toward a doctorate at Binghamton University. You can visit his website for helpful college application resources, free downloads, and writing tips: www.beinggreenbook.com.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

The Personal Essay: A Creative Alternative to the Five-Paragraph Essay

AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS spend so much of their education writing five-paragraph essays. Yet the formality and structure of academic essay writing leave little or no room for personal exploration. When asked to write about themselves-what they're passionate about, how their past experiences have shaped them, how they envision their futures, and even whether they think it's easy being green-students often have no model to draw on or structural equivalent to the five-paragraph essay to follow. And that's what makes the college application essay, at the heart of which lies personal exploration, so challenging and intimidating for so many students.

Some schools have always asked unusual essay questions. Now the essay questions lobbed at students range from the plain to the increasingly strange at more schools, and seem to coincide with augmented international interest in American colleges and universities, increased American applications across state lines, and an uptick in the average number of schools that American students are applying to. American schools-particularly the most selective ones-are turning away candidates with test scores, GPAs, recommendations, and activity profiles similar to those of students who are accepted. With only so many factors to consider, admissions officials are putting more emphasis on the application essay to distinguish highly qualified students from each other. Quirky essay questions and the expanded word count of the new Common Application (CA4) personal statement both speak to this emphasis.

It is with this emphasis in mind that this book adapts the established genre of the personal essay as a structural equivalent to the thesis-driven academic essays that high school students are used to writing. Here structural does not imply a fixed number of paragraphs. Rather, as you read more about the personal essay, you will find that the methods presented in this book are simple enough to apply immediately to your writing yet dynamic enough to enhance your essays substantially. In short, this book aims to familiarize students with the wonderful and open genre of the personal essay, to give them greater confidence and a stronger foothold in their college admissions essays. By introducing applicants to useful specifics of this rich genre, I hope that readers will sidestep the frenzied race that college admissions has become by simply focusing on practical ways to maximize the short space they are typically given to write about themselves. Importantly, the new Common Application prompts are ripe for the personal essay, which will allow you to present a key part of your admissions profile in a creative way that appeals to a wider array of schools.

A compelling personal essay can also provide a strong foundation that you can easily adjust to answer other school-specific, supplemental, or optional essays that may be part of some colleges' applications. This book does not go into great detail explaining how to answer any given college's prompt because a well-crafted personal essay can be both specific and flexible enough to meet the demands of many different types of application questions, however conventional or unusual they may be. By following the guidelines here, you will likely be able to use or modify only a few essays to meet the application requirements for all your schools.

What Makes This Book Different

This book offers the unique advantage of an anthology of essays in Part I, combined with in-depth explanations of how to implement the modeled techniques in your writing in Part II-features that would typically be found in two separate books on writing the admissions essay. Instead of being grouped by theme, these essays are arranged according to the organizational concepts that they illustrate. All these essays put to use more than the one concept for which they're categorized, so as you read, you will begin to pick up on these concepts even when they're not pointed out directly. The appendices briefly present advice on related admissions factors like brainstorming, time management, teacher recommendations, the admissions interview, and athletic recruitment. In short, the basic idea behind this book is that better engaging with the admissions process will bring better results.

The essays presented here have been chosen for their sophistication, not necessarily because they were admissions essays-they are meant to challenge your preconceived notions about what an admissions essay should or should not be. Some richly detail everyday events, while others forcefully explore sensitive personal material. These sensitive essays are included for you to consider what you are comfortable sharing with prospective schools. Perhaps you have been advised not to write about negative personal material-certainly, you might choose not to write on such a topic. But as you read the essays collected here, consider what they have in common beneath their widely ranging subjects. If you can't relate to a particular essay, then put yourself in the seat of an admissions officer. Ask yourself what you can glean about that writer and how he or she successfully uses the personal essay to provide a complex portrait in a short writing space. If you do have sensitive personal material that you want to write on, you should feel encouraged and prepared to do so.

Second to breathing, telling stories is the most natural thing we as humans do. Intently engaging in narrative writing will connect you, person to person, to more admissions readers in the most fundamental way. This is the only book to provide specific guidance on writing personal essays for college applications.

Time Is on My Side

When you're busily studying and participating in extracurricular activities, you might scoff (understandably) at the notion of taking your time, which is why it is best to start working on application essays the summer before your senior year and shepherding them to controlled completion when applications are due in the fall. Think of writing your college essays as a hobby and treat them as an end in themselves. In fact, forget that they are even college essays. Write essays. The more time you give yourself to explore personal expression in writing, the more you will enjoy the process and the better essays you will write.

Depending on how you learn and write, you might get more out of this book if you have at least one college application essay underway (however rough or incomplete). If you have not begun drafting your essays, choose a prompt from a college you might apply to or from the Common Application (see Appendix 1: Essay Questions You Might See) and take half an hour to write a response on your own-or simply write an essay on a personal experience without using a prompt. As you continue reading this book, you might find some writing techniques are more difficult to use than others. With time and practice, from draft to draft and application to application, these points of advice will make their way more and more naturally into your writing. Ultimately, though, you should focus on what is most useful to you. An extended timeline for the application process can be found in Appendix 4: Timelines for Applying.

I'm under the Gun

If you are a high school senior reading this after, say, the beginning of December, odds are that you have at least one application due in the coming week or two. (In fact, some colleges' early applications are due November 1.) In any case, the deadlines pile up quickly, and if you are feeling squeezed for time, see Appendix 4: Timelines for Applying for a condensed but controlled application timeline. By following this recommended path, you should still be able to get a grip on the basic organizational techniques needed to write a controlled personal narrative in a short amount of time, even if you can't afford the luxury of taking extra time to plan, draft, and revise.

Remember, many, many high school students before you have had to whiz through the application process while managing the demands of school, family, work, or sports. Even though the process might seem overwhelming now, it will be over before you know it.

And you'll do just fine.

Table of Contents

Contents
Introduction: The Personal Essay: A Creative Alternative to the Five-Paragraph Essay
What Makes This Book Different
Time Is on My Side
I'm under the Gun
Part I: Essays
Chapter 1: Narrative Essays: The Stories We Tell
Chapter 2: Lyric Essays: Inviting the Reader In
Chapter 3: Fact vs. Truth: What Our Experiences Mean
Chapter 4: Reduction and Style before Content: Making People into Characters and Learning to Leave Material Out
Chapter 5: Campus Narratives, Short Responses, and Non-Narrative Reponses
Part II: Techniques
Chapter 6: What Makes the Personal Essay Tick: A Look at Narrative-Lyric Balance
Chapter 7: Not Just Another English Essay: Making Space for Creativity in Personal Writing
Breaking the Rules of Academic Writing
In the Moment
A Controlled Start and a Soft Landing
Chapter 8: Maximizing Creativity in the Personal Essay
Fact vs. Truth and Imaginative Language
Reduction
Style before Content
The Litmus Test
Chapter 9: Other Compositional Considerations
A Note on Risk
Avoiding Cliché Essays
Strategies for Word Limits
Meeting Character Limits
Choosing a Title
Campus Narratives
Short Responses and Non-Narrative Responses
Optional Essays
Some Final Thoughts
Appendices:
A1. Essay Questions You Might See
A2. Strategies for Brainstorming Personal Material
A3. Matching Essays with Applications
A4. Timelines for Applying
A5. Organizational Charts
A6. Teacher Recommendations
A7. Interview with an Ivy League Interviewer
A8. Interview with a Stanford Student-Athlete Alumnus
A9. Easy Being Green Online
Sources Used
About the Contributors
Acknowledgments
About the Author

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