The Wall Street Journal has an essay here by a writer who used to coach high school students on how to write their college essays. She is critical of the whole process, citing the adults who take over the process, and the entitled students who have nothing worthwhile to write about except their quarterly visits to a nursing home with their golden retrievers. Her advice—and the advice of every English teacher I’ve ever known—is that kids write simply about something important to them.
As a high school English teacher for 37 years, I helped many, many students with their college essays, not having any idea I could be getting twenty dollars a word on the private market. Where was my union on this?
But I digress. Here’s the thing: a student cannot sit down and write a great personal essay when all he has written in the past are tight, boring little five paragraph academic essays. It takes a lot of practice to develop a voice, a style, and an ability to weave in anecdote and reflection. It also takes a habit of avid reading, as reading is the input for writing.