A PCAP Success Story
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By Susan Packer Davis

I had a student last year – a kind, sweet-natured young man, who came to ThinkTank Learning for help with his college applications.  He was in 11th grade, and had an uneven academic record. His standardized test scores, too, were not stellar. A computer science devotee, he dreamed of attending a major university with a top-notch computer science department.  To his credit, his extracurricular and volunteer activities in the field were significant in content and caliber; they were impressive. Still, I was concerned his nondescript academic record and test scores would lead to disappointing admissions results – unless we could provide some magic.  We needed to tell his story in a way that would open the hearts and minds of admissions committees.

As the student’s junior year progressed, neither his grades nor his test scores improved much, despite his best efforts.  All the while, however, I was contemplating the best approach for his required application essays. I knew he had to highlight the genesis of his love for and continuing dedication to computer science, as well as his noted abilities in the area – to counteract any perception that he could not handle challenging work.

I asked many questions:  When did you first encounter a computer?  What happened when you did? How did you feel?  What made you want to study computers? How did your interest in the field evolve as you grew older?  Did you have any mentors? What aspect of computer science attracts you most? Why? And on and on. As I always do, I took notes to which I could refer when the student began writing his essays.

In the late summer before his senior year, the student began to write.  I reminded him of the charming anecdotes he had told me – sitting on his father’s lap in front of the family’s old desktop computer, acting as the resident videographer for friends’ parties, teaching low-income children and senior citizens in the East Bay all about computers.  I edited his first drafts with those vignettes in mind. Making sure to preserve the student’s voice, I edited for grammar, logic/flow, and, most important, impact. I wanted the reader to feel this young man’s lifelong excitement and fascination with all things computer science.

Our efforts bore fruit.  The student was accepted to several highly-ranked computer science programs, including those at Northeastern and Purdue.  Important activities and beautiful, touching essays made the difference. They always do.