First piece of advice when setting out to write your college essay: Keep Calm and Just Write -- It's Only An Essay!

Seems there's nothing more unnerving to students (and, by extension, their parents) than the college essay. What to write? How do I say it? Will it be good enough? Can I tell my "story" in 650 words or less? And what about Naomi?

Indeed, with all the hype and hyperbolae surrounding the college essay (as to form, content, style, and overuse of SAT words), it would seem to be a more difficult undertaking than sending a man to Venus, and bringing him safely back home. [Wait. That would be a woman who goes to Venus. Men are from Mars! :-)]

One of the best essays I ever read was written by a "B" student I worked with several years ago. Like so many before her, she was stumped as to what to write or where to start. ["Always start at the beginning," I said.]

I asked her if there was anything that she was particularly passionate about. Was there something that moved her. No response. Taking another poke at it, I queried, "Is there anything that opened your eyes?"  Suddenly (and without warning :-), her eyes opened wide and she blurted out, "In the fourth grade I had to get glasses!"

"Okay," I said, inquisitively. "Tell me more."

"Well, I was mortified. You see, I always looked at kids who wore glasses as freaks. They were, to me, disabled in some way."

I gazed at her with absorbing interest, as she began to weave her story.

"Frankly," she said. "I'd rather have died at the moment. But, as I could barely see the blackboard, let alone the writing on it, and death not being an option, I had no choice.

"So, I got glasses, this in the days before designer frames had matching accessories. Not only could I see the board, but I started to look at my classmates differently. Kids who wore glasses weren't really that much different than I. And then, I started to look at other people who may have seemed different, whether physically or even mentally challenged in some way, and began to realize that we had more in common than I ever knew. I actually began to see people in a different light, for who they are, and was able to make a positive connection."

Her story went on a bit (sans word limits, which did not exist at the time), and she brought it all together in this wonderful penultimate (great SAT word) paragraph:

"Eventually, when I got to high school, I started working with a group of Asperger's children. I saw them in a way that few others could. And, I suppose, had I not been forced to get glasses back in the fourth grade, my eyes would never have been opened to the people and places that truly make us who we are and who we strive to become."

I sat there, in awe and speechless, for the better part of a minute (Oprah would have referred to this as an "Aha Moment"), and found the only words that I could utter: "There's your essay!"

Whether that essay helped get this student into her first choice college (she actually went to her second choice, which, as often happens, quickly became her first choice), I cannot say. Clearly, it didn't hurt.

The key, in my opinion, is to keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep it honest. Stay positive (a little humor or self-deprecation could work, if you know how to handle it).  And make it about you. Regardless of the essay prompts (which, in most instances, with a bit of tweaking, are broad enough to encompass the "topic of your choice"), always keep in mind the three questions that all college admissions officers truly want you to answer: (1) Who are you? (2) Who do you hope to become over the next four years?, and (3) What would you bring to campus (other than those Donald Duck boxers) and to the community beyond?

Remember, you are not writing for the Pulitzer committee, or the cover story of the Sunday Times Magazine (though, you never know). You are penning a piece about the one subject you know better than anyone else in the world -- YOU!

Have fun with your essay, and, write on!

P.S. The above consists of 733 words, beyond the limit set forth by the folks at Common AppDamn!
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