How writing confidence translates to college acceptance

When Talya began applying for schools in the fall of 2018, she was far ahead of most of her peers. And that’s not only because she chose to apply early.

Talya is a parent’s dream. She operates on plans, checklists, note-taking, spreadsheets, and networking. If it’s important, Talya has seen it coming and she’s working on a strategy. These tactics are not new acquisitions either.

Talya, who grew up competing in sports, elected to attend a rigorous private high school, has volunteered hundreds of hours to Youthline, a crisis helpline with teen to teen support, and even sat on the Planned Parenthood Council before she was 18, is well practiced in getting her ship in order and aiming her sails at the high seas.

As she toured schools, tried on majors, and devoted herself to passionate causes, there was just one little thing (okay, it’s kind of a big thing) that kept Talya awake at night, worried that she might not be accepted into her dream school. That annoying little thought with big implications is something that bugs a lot of students: writing.

Like every other challenge, Talya attacked it bravely but soon learned that her fears about writing only worsened, “I learned that holding oneself to very high expectations causes one’s self-confidence to decrease.” In other words, whenever Talya thought about college admissions reading her work, her mind froze rather than expanded. 

Working with writers for twenty years has shown me that the combination of the blank page and the high stakes of writing cause a lot of us to shut down, and if we apply the common wisdom of “toughing it out” the writing doesn’t actually turn out better but worse. Why? Because the creeping self-doubt is insidious, strangling our good ideas and diminishing our energy.

Fixing this issue is its own paradox because it requires the already anxious writer to suspend belief that their ideas, words, and sentences impress. Instead, students must be willing to take a risk that the time invested in spitting out sentences could be lost if later they deem it as unworthy.

It’s funny when you think about it because, as we all know, no one actually sees our writing unless we give it to them. And in that way, we are quite free to make mistakes, which is exactly what I encourage students like Talya to do. In fact, in giving herself permission to mess up, Talya discovered that, “I’m actually a better writer than I thought.” 

This realization arrived just in time because applying to many colleges which required multiple essays meant putting that new belief system to the test. Talya applied early decision to Pitzer College, one of the top schools in the West. Her application required a common application essay (personal essay) and a supplemental essay which asked Talya to write about how her experiences matched the school’s core values—over 1250 words of high stakes writing! 

Since students who apply early decision don’t hear back before other early applications are due, Talya also applied and wrote multiple essays for a handful of other schools. Talya credits her new attitude and writing techniques to helping her receive early acceptance to Pitzer, her first choice school, and her later acceptances into the University of Denver, Lewis and Clark College, the University of Oregon, Seattle University, and the University of Puget Sound

Her number one writing tip for fellow students comes straight from one of our sessions, “When you don’t know what word to use, just create a blank on your document and keep going.” She admits its usefulness has now surpassed her college essays, “This technique has helped me knock out school papers faster and without a second thought. I’ll definitely be using it in future endeavors.” 

What does a list maker do once she’s achieved acceptance into her top school and revised your attitude on writing? Make a google doc with tips, tricks, and advice for college-bound students, of course. 

Should you visit every college? “No,” says Talya, “But do visit the ones that truly interest you.” 

How do you keep track of application deadlines? “Make a spreadsheet,” advises Talya. “It’s a lifesaver.” 

How do you ensure that information about a school matches the student experience? “Talk to students who aren’t connected with admissions,” she reminds college hopefuls. 

It’s not surprising Talya is excited to join the Claremont Consortium in the fall of 2019—after all it’s not too far from home, mirrors her core values, and offers the warm sunshine of California. But this planner did her homework and knew the school checked one more essential box on her list: exceptional cuisine. As an Oregonian who can proudly boast she’s never even tasted fast food, Pitzer’s top 20 food ranking did not go unnoticed in her research. 

Cheers to Talya—not just a student who forges a trail for herself but one who is happy to share directions to other students headed in the same direction.


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