I don’t work at Fletcher on Wednesdays, and this fall I’ve been spending part of my day off at our local high school, offering college essay tutoring to frantic seniors.  As challenging as grad school essays are, you have to sympathize with these kids who are instructed to “be unique” in 500 words.  Telling a 17-year-old to write something no other 17-year-old will write — that’s a recipe for stress.

The high school is very diverse with a large population of immigrants and first-generation Americans, and they have trouble seeing themselves as special, though they certainly are in general applicant pools.  (My favorite story was of the girl living with a pack of siblings and cousins from Mexico — they had been born in the U.S., and their parents sent them back for high school or college.  Somehow, her unusual living situation — ten kids in a house where the oldest was a 25-year-old — didn’t strike her as essay-worthy.)

My approach is to try to lower the pressure on the high schoolers by telling them that, though there are zillions of high school seniors applying for admission, “There’s only one you,” and that the key is to write something true to themselves.  This week, I had a follow-up session with a kid who answered the “who’s your role model” question by writing about his mother.  Of course, the mother in me can’t help but be touched.  The admissions person in me suspects there will be a lot of applicants writing about parents.  So we tied the content to his aspirations for college, and I think it worked pretty well.  Also important:  his mom liked the essay.  That was satisfying.

Applicants for undergraduate admission are essentially answering the question, “who are you?” At 17, many of them don’t really know the answer.

Applicants for Fletcher, at least in the personal statement, are telling us what they want to accomplish at Fletcher and beyond.  As you prepare for graduate school, it’s important that you know the answer.

There’s a big difference between undergraduate and professional school essays, but applicants of both types share the challenge of facing a blank computer screen and trying to lay it all out.  We know it’s difficult!  But without the essays, we would be making decisions only on the basis of dry facts, with no opportunity to shape a class of interesting people.  So, as you pour your goals and souls onto the page, I want to make sure you know how much we value the personal statements, the supplemental essays, and all we learn from them.  They’re the key to evaluating the match between you and Fletcher, and they’re the most interesting part of each application file.

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