Amazing College Essays
“Sam Teixeira is simply the best writing teacher I have ever seen. She realizes that a good essay doesn’t come simply from hard work or the desire to get into college, but from honest self-inquiry and understanding.”
— Jonathan Reider, Director of College Counseling, University High School, San Francisco, former Associate Admissions Director at Stanford University, and co-author of Admission Matters
Your Child’s Brilliance
You see it. You’ve nurtured your child for sixteen years. You’ve heralded them through successes and coached them through challenges. You’ve delighted when they found something that became “their thing.” You’ve given them space when they’ve needed to make their own decisions even when that meant finding things out the hard way.
Through sports games and school performances, pep talks and reality checks, you’ve devoted yourself as a parent to developing your child. And, no matter what the circumstances at any given time in your child’s life, you’ve been an unceasing advocate of…their brilliance.
A love of acting. A devotion to team sports. A passion for environmentalism. An obsession with art. A social facility where they know how to say the just the right thing to a friend in trouble. A quiet introversion where they percolate more in their head than they ever say. Through crises and triumphs, you’ve supported the birth of your child’s uniqueness into this world. At times it was momentous, but mostly it was simply a quiet process, year after year.
And now it’s time for your child to write it all up in 500 words.
Brilliance…in a box?
The moment has arrived. Over the next six months of your child’s life, they will be packaging up their whole life in a box, tying it with a bow, and delivering into the hands of the admissions officers who will seemingly loom over their fate.
This is very likely the most intense task your child has yet attempted.
Students usually find the admissions essays to be the hardest part of the application, but they are also very powerful. Through them your child can make themselves stand out to an admissions officer in an otherwise anonymous application. But how?
This is not about your child marketing themselves.
Your child is not a product. They are not a tube of toothpaste. And they are not making a startup pitch. Admissions officers are not looking for “the next big thing.” They are looking for whole people.
Your child doesn’t need to “sell” herself. They need to start from the core and express themselves with integrity.
The most common mistake that students make is thinking that their strongest writing comes from trying to impress someone else. With that mindset, students fall into the trap of trying to say what they think the colleges want to hear before discovering what they have to say. They try to cram everything they’ve ever done into an essay. Or they assume that their descriptions of their lives capture their core of who they are when actually they have not considered deeper layers of insight that would resonate more with an admissions reader.
Your child needs to dig into themselves and discover their own jewels of what they have to say – jewels already inside them that require focused attention to bring to the surface and to observe the different facets. To do this, they need help – not tips about hooks and creative techniques, but guidance on how to self-reflect to discover important truths about themselves.
Self-inquiry is the key to all convincing reflective writing.
Writing powerful college essays is hard, not just because good writing is hard work (though it is), but because it is really hard to see oneself. Attempting to self-reflect at this level without help is like trying to imagine your reflection without a mirror.
When a young person captures their essence in an essay, their words jump off the page and make them come alive to an admissions officer who is reading hundreds of essays each week. This gives the self-reflective writer an enormous advantage.
In the current admissions climate, with so much to accomplish and such high stakes, it’s difficult for students to give themselves permission — much less time — to step back and reflect to mine the jewels inside. And even if they were to do so — where would they start? Questions about who they are and what college means to them are tremendous. Which questions matter most for the essay-writing process?
Young people need a supported, structured process to help them do this.
A Self-Reflective Journey Inspiring Ideas for Great Essays
In the Amazing College Essays Online Program, proven reflective exercises about their high school experiences and their future dreams help students write powerful essays that express insight and originality. Along the way, students learn writing skills that expand their sense of personal power and ability to communicate that will last them a lifetime.
The course helps return the college admissions process back where it should be, a rewarding journey of personal growth, all while helping students create their strongest work.
Your child will leave with:
- A strategic foundation for all of their essays. Students develop an individualized plan for how they will present themselves for every essay they write in the months ahead. Other summer “essay boot camps” focus on one essay at a time; this program lays the groundwork for all of their essays.
- A master list of essay topics and insights that they can draw on for all of their essays.
- Confidence about how to put it all together for an admissions reader, and a powerful framework for written expression that will help them articulate effectively throughout their lives.
- An expanded sense of their future, including more nuanced thinking about what they want from their college education and a deeper connection to their strengths and values.
- A big dose of inspiration!
- Four weeks of content delivered via video, introducing students to a self-reflective framework and featuring structured self-reflective exercises with follow-up homework assignments that reinforce the process
- Worksheets guiding them through each step of the curriculum
- The support of a small group of fellow students in a private social learning online portal, where students can share reflections with each other to build community, as well as weekly feedback on homework
- PDFs delivered to parents with frameworks to help you support your child as they engage in self-reflection
Week 1: What is a reflective process, and why is it important for the college essays? How can I support a reflective process throughout my admissions journey?
Week 2: Digging in: structured exercises that help students reflect on teachers, classes, and what they want out of college
Week 3: Digging further: structured exercises that help students think about their activities, intellectual interests, and personal relationships
Week 4: Putting it all together to take your college essays to a new level
The Core Reflective Exercises
Over four classes, students work through three core reflective exercises that help them discover what has been important to them about their experiences in high school and what matters to them about their futures. These exercises help students approach essay topics through a “back door” – to ponder nuances they hadn’t previously considered.
These core exercises have been developed over nearly a decade of work with students alongside my four years of training in reflective inquiry through The Center for Courage and Renewal, an educational nonprofit that teaches educators and nonprofit leaders how to introduce reflective inquiry into classrooms and organizations.
This is a moving process for young people. They see their accomplishments in a new light. They form a deeper relationship to their strengths. They find greater compassion for their struggles. Their lives gels for them and they discover greater faith in their future.
To let you know, this course may not be suited for these situations:
- Sometimes students don’t wish to devote the needed time during the summer to do this work. They might have jobs, or maybe they just need a break. That’s perfectly understandable. For this program to work for them, their heart needs to be in it. We don’t want anyone to enroll in the program just to get the process over with. Please make sure both you and your child feel it’s right for them.
- Sometimes a parent can have strong notions about what their child should write about. This curriculum always has surprises for students. The course will work best for you if you as a parent want to encourage self-exploration in your child. Are you willing to be surprised by what they come up with?
This class will next occur in the summer and fall of 2016. To inquire about one-on-one support for the 2015 admissions season, please contact me through my contact form.
Students will have 30 minutes to 1 hour of homework between each session. I will review and provide feedback on each students’ homework individually.
The program fee is $590. When I work with students individually with this curriculum, the cost is $2,300.
I also offer a premium 1:1 service to a handful families each year. Please contact us to let us know you if you are interested in this.
Ready to join the me? Please fill out the questionnaire here to receive registration details that we will be sending out as the class dates near.
1. My child already has ideas for their college essays. Do they need to go through a process like this?
Your child sounds eager and ready. Good for them!
Previously, students who have come to this program with ideas already formed for their essays found that this process either helped them write about those ideas more deeply, or opened them up to new themes to write about. I address this with students in the first class meeting.
Every student who has gone through this process has been moved by it. Even if they already have ideas, this approach is such a refreshing change from other more pedantic ways of teaching college essay writing that they are inspired to write at a new level.
So if your child already has topic ideas, they are certainly welcome in this program.
2. I have a close relationship with my child, and I think that he/she and I may be able to do a self-reflective process on our own. Will this course be useful for us?
It helps to have an outside party help your child think through this task. Even the most skillful and loving parent may be too close for the child to risk new thinking. I invite you to use my years of experience helping students dig deeper into themselves at this age to help you take the process further with your child than you may be able to do on your own.
I commend your attentiveness to supporting the emotional connection between you and your child. The college essay writing experience can deepen your connection to each other during a pivotal time in your relationship. This material works very well in these instances. Students go through the exercises and bring their fresh perspectives to their trusted parent, prompting rich discussions at home.
This isn’t just a rite of passage for students; it’s a rite of passage for you, too — and your relationship to your child at this time is worth much care and attention. This course may support you both to embark on a reflective process together.
3. On the other hand, what if my child is more emotionally independent? Will this program work if they don’t share their thoughts with me, or if I don’t want to get deeply involved?
Absolutely. I hope that this program will ultimately enrich relationships between parents and their children. But sometimes — in fact many times at this age — the best way to do this is to give your child space, to trust in their own evolution. Trusting your child in this way may be one of the greatest gifts you will ever give them.
Some students like to share a lot with their parents, and some students need more independence. That’s as it should be. Each way is honored.
I will be sending materials to parents all along the way to help support your process with your child, whether it is jumping into conversations with them or — more likely in your case — communicating your respect for their autonomy and offering your support should they wish to take it.
4. What happens during each class?
The classes are about an hour long. I will start with an overview, present a concept and an exercise, let students do the exercise, answer the questions that came up, introduce another exercise, and so forth. This way the classes will be interactive, and students will accomplish a great deal during each lesson. We will have plenty of time for questions.
5. Tell me more about class recordings versus live attendance.
I encourage live attendance to the videoconference classes. Students will likely get more out of it if they can ask questions as the material is presented.
I will, however, be recording the classes in case they need to miss a class or if they simply prefer to work with the recording. Your child will need to watch it within a week so they can keep up with the class. If they cannot ask questions live during the class, I will encourage them to ask questions in the online portal.
6. What kind of computer setup will be needed?
Your child will need a computer with internet access. We will be uploading video using Google Sites and private Youtube links that don’t always display well on Apple iPads or iPhones. Working from a desktop or laptop computer is best.
We will be using Google Apps for homework assignments, so your child will need to have a Gmail account.
Your child will also need privacy. This is not a time for parents to be present. Students need privacy to feel safe reflecting on what is most important to them. Your child will need to have a room to themselves while they are working through the material.
7. How can my child get individual feedback on their essays once they have written them?
I offer essay review feedback in through my 1:1 Laser Review Sessions on a first-come, first-serve basis. My calendar generally fills anywhere from one to three months in advance. Students in this program will receive a special rate for this service. If you are interested in this, please contact us, and we will get you that information.
8. How does this class differ from college essay “boot camp” summer workshops?
Many college essay workshops may suggest how to structure an essay, but they do not guide students to reflect on their lives in a way that will provide meaningful themes to a reader. Facilitators often guide students to brainstorm topics through direct questions about their accomplishments or challenges. Commonly, they brainstorm topics directly from the Common Application essay prompts, rather than from the students’ self-understanding.
That approach assumes that students already have topics in mind that they can apply to the prompts. It elicits only their “top of mind” ideas. It doesn’t help them to reflect deeply on their experiences. Brainstorming doesn’t help people learn something new about themselves. In contrast, a reflective approach does.
In addition, most college essay summer workshops walk students through one or two essays. In contrast, this program provides a foundation — including a master list of topics — for all of the essays your child will write.
Lastly, this program instills in students a grounded approach to the admissions process that emphasizes personal growth. While I am certainly not alone as an educator in taking this approach, unfortunately it has become uncommon in an admissions “industry” that increasingly emphasizes “packaging” young people without attention to deeper educational values that provide students with an intrinsic sense of meaning and purpose.
9. I have another question. How can I get in touch with you?
My assistant, Lisa, and I are happy to respond to further questions. Please feel free to reach out to us through our contact page.
You might also be interested in reviewing the Student Q&A below.
1. How much work is involved?
You will have anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour of homework in between sessions.
Students who get the most out of this material devote time and energy to it. This is not a “write your essay in a week” boot camp type course. Rather, the philosophy is that reflection takes time. It will be worth it to you in the end ☺, but you have to be willing to put in the effort.
2. Can I do this program with my friends?
Sure. Please have your friend contact us, and if we still have room in the course, we will enroll them. ☺ Just be sure you talk with your friend about what you want them to keep private. Doing self-reflection work is very personal. Sometimes we don’t want even our friends to know how we feel about a certain experience. We’ll talk about this again in the course, but for now just keep in mind that if you have a friend you know in the course, it’s ok if you decide not to share everything with each other. Of course, if you want to, you can — you get to choose.
Great! I’m thrilled to have your interest in this course!
Click the “questionnaire” link below to receive the registration details when we send them out. The link will take you to a page where you will be asked to provide a little more information about you so that we can see if the course will be a good fit.
I look forward to learning more about you and your child!
Is your child a sophomore or younger? You can fill out the questionnaire, too — you’ll note your child’s grade in the questionnaire, and we’ll put you on the early notification list for the correct year.
Selfie Photo Credit: Patrick Nysen