If it’s not possible to meet in person, the student and I speak on the phone or via Skype. I try to get to know as much as I can about the student and gain a sense of where he is in the essay process. I also make a point of asking questions about all the other components of a student’s college application because it is critical to consider the essay in the context of the entire application.

If, in our first conversation, a student claims to have no idea of what to write about, or fears that nothing in their experience is original or exceptional, I offer a list of writing prompts that provides students with new angles into their personal experience.  When students freely explore these prompts (without the constraints of structure and grammatical rules), we frequently discover unexpected, rich material. As we discuss what emerges, and I help to identify topics, students forget their initial trepidation and are motivated to move forward with the process.

If a student is still stuck, we read and discuss sample essays.  Once students recognize how infinitely varied successful college essays are in content, structure, style, and tone, they usually feel more willing to take risks and begin the process.

If a student arrives at our first meeting with a draft in hand, I read it on the spot so we can discuss its potential.  If the student and I agree that their concept is worth pursuing, I offer suggestions for revision.

Continued Communication

Students email me drafts, and I respond within forty-eight hours with comprehensive comments via email and/or phone.

It is impossible to say how many drafts a student will write.  The first drafts are often rough explorations of one or more topics. To help the student hone his concept, I ask questions to draw out anecdotes or memories that the student might not have considered exploring. I also point out ideas that are worthy of further development. To make the essay more vivid and lively, I point out places where more details are needed. As the essay begins to take shape, the focus of the work shifts to finding the most effective way to organize the student’s ideas. In the final stage of drafting, we focus on fine-tuning and editing for mechanical errors. At all times, I encourage students to maintain their own voice.