College application essays are notoriously challenging. Students are advised to "be themselves," write naturally, and show who they really are. Simultaneously, they must somehow make a unique impression, revealing magical personal qualities that render them special, shining assets to the college. Students struggle to describe their signature experiences – the big game they won, the big game they lost, their emotionally moving community service or the science fair prize. It's a depressing project, indeed.
"Write Out Loud," a new guide to the college application essay, takes a very different approach – shaking up the equation, and in so doing, guide students to write terrific essays. The book is based on the "Story to College" essay writing workshop program created by author Carol Barash. Barash, a graduate of Yale and Princeton, had two seminal experiences in the evolution of her program: As faculty advisor at Rutgers University, she read and evaluated thousands of college applicants' essays and came to know all too well the difference between the uninspiring average essay and the rare gem. She could also relate, however, to the middling efforts: As a high school student, she had been told that she wasn't much of a writer, either. It was a challenge that she took on, discovering in the process what makes writing real, powerful and evocative. For the past few years, Barash has been sharing those lessons in her workshops and online in a Udemy course. Now it's all in the book, too.
"Write Out Loud" is different from most college application essay how-to's. For one thing, it's big, like an old-school magazine: tall and wide. That's because it's a workbook designed for students to write in, advancing through exercises of introspection and discovery as they read. Unlike a typical essay collection organized by theme, this book puts students through a series of organized writing workouts that build skills, and more importantly, understanding. Instead of advising students to appeal to colleges' supposed concepts of the ideal candidate, students are taught through the book's activities to better understand what makes them special and what they themselves value. These often overlooked points are actually the keys to a true and moving essay and meaningful college choices.
The workbook guides students through the range of essays they have to write for their college applications, not just the big one. Barash emphasizes the importance of the shorter essays that many colleges include in their Common App supplements and how to prepare to answer them thoughtfully. The guide has short discussions of other aspects of the college process including financial aid, college visits, test taking and prep, interviews, and even a basic grammar guide.
For students who seek quick results, this guide provides strong tips which will open their eyes to the clichés and "scripts" they've likely been leaning on – and show how to go beyond them. For those who are serious about writing great college essays and willing to open up to the challenge, the book is likely to make a real difference in their college essays and teach them writing skills that will also serve them in college and beyond.