By Calla Buttke
During this past college application season, I spent quite a bit of time with a student with the initials of CD. One of our guaranteed students, I served as his essay consultant and helped him with his essays for ten different college applications. Over the course of the months last fall and winter when we were collaborating on his essays, I saw him blossom as a writer, grow as a person, determine what he wants to do in college and life, and also gain acceptance to a host of great colleges, including the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, the University of Washington-Seattle, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Aiming to study computer science in college but having nowhere near straight A’s and a perfect SAT score, CD looked outside of top schools in California and set his sights on one of the top public out-of-state schools: the University of Michigan, considered to be one of the “Public Ivies” in this country. For CD, Michigan is a great fit with its excellent computer science program, its large and diverse student body, and the traditional, spirited college experience that the campus offers. Therefore, getting into Michigan became CD’s ultimate goal.
With his grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities for the most part set in stone by the time I began working with him, I knew that CD’s essays would be a major way in which he would be able to set himself apart from other applicants to Michigan, most of whom have good grades, high test scores, and robust extracurricular profiles. These days, in order to get into top 30 schools, it is oftentimes the case that simply having good grades and test scores is not enough; there has to be something unique about you that sets you apart from the others, and, in addition to that, you have to be able to effectively showcase this unique characteristic or trait via your essays. Essays are the lifeblood of college applications, for they show the who the applicant is, beyond the numerical values that define one’s GPA, test scores, and even the quantity of extracurricular activities. Therefore, for CD, who has a wealth of life experiences as well as a strong passion for sports and computer science, his essays were of the utmost importance.
While working with CD, we went through multiple rounds of drafts for each essay. For CD, the biggest problem was narrowing down all that he had to say and focusing on the aspects related to the given essay prompt that mattered the most. That is where I was able to help. After brainstorming essay ideas together, CD would write a first draft on his own, which often ended up being more than double the maximum word count because he had so many things that he wanted to share. I would then do extensive content editing, helping suggest which subtopics he should cut and which parts he should further embellish. I would provide specific feedback and pose questions that would guide him as he wrote his second draft. I would then do another round of content editing. For the subsequent drafts, I focused on polishing the essay by providing style, word choice, and sentence flow feedback and edits. Overall, CD’s final essays blended his passion for the schools he was applying to with his unique life experiences, integritous personality traits, and his intellectual curiosity. Although his final Michigan essays did not mention the Wolverines football games as much as CD probably would have liked, we still managed to incorporate his interests in the social and school spirit aspects of Michigan with addressing the prompt related to his intended academic pursuits in the college at Michigan to which he was applying.
When CD received his acceptance letter from Michigan, he promptly and ecstatically relayed the wonderful news to us. Since he received acceptances to a number of schools, we had a meeting to discuss which school he should attend. As an alumna from another Big Ten school, I encouraged him to attend Michigan, because after getting to know him over the course of the past college application season, I know that he would thrive academically and personally at Michigan. He concurred and has now committed to attending Michigan. I wish CD the best of luck in Ann Arbor! Go Blue!