What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato? A mother's battle with the college essay
My son and I knew these admission essays were important. But the advice on the bookstore shelves overwhelmed us. For students hoping to meet the last few application deadlines: Forget high-priced college consultants and turn instead to the real experts, the essayists themselves.
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For advice, I called the smartest person I know. I asked him how he felt about this year’s crop of questions.Skip to next paragraph
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"Most of these questions strike me as vague and unanswerable, except by a philosopher-historian-political scientist-man-of-letters who has attained eminence in several different disciplines and shows a genius’s ability to synthesize his or her wisdom on almost any subject in the universe," he said.
Whew! How would today’s students, accustomed to year-round sports and loads of extra curriculars deal with Seneca? Would this year’s seniors be up to the task?
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I wanted to help my son without actually doing any of the writing. Teaching someone how to write is a torturous business. Besides, I felt more and more compelled to take the advice of a close friend: Avoid all schools with supplemental essays.
Instead, I hired an unpaid consultant who would guarantee complete success: Project Gutenberg, an online database of free eBooks in the public domain. I went to the website’s search box, typed in the names of essayists like William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb, printed out their advice, and left copies for my son to read. I promised myself if my son got into the college of his choice then I would volunteer to help the Gutenberg Project, and proofread a page a day, as the site requested.
So for students hoping to meet the last few deadline dates, Happy New Year! Forget the high-priced college consultants and turn instead to the real experts. Here is a sampling:
Ben Jonson: "For a man to write well, there are required three necessaries – to read the best authors, observe the best speakers, and much exercise of his own style."
James Boswell: "When a man writes from his own mind, he writes very rapidly. The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write: a man will turn over half a library to make one book."
William Hazlitt: "The proper force of words lies not in the words themselves, but in their application. A word may be a fine-sounding word, of an unusual length, and very imposing from its learning and novelty, and yet in the connection in which it is introduced may be quite pointless and irrelevant. It is not pomp or pretension, but the adaptation of the expression to the idea, that clenches a writer’s meaning."
Janine Wood is a freelance writer.
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