It’s been quite a hiatus from my blog—nearly 3 months. I didn’t have many readers to begin with, but from the little I know about blogging, the quickest drop to zero visitors is simple: a gap in posts. But since this blog is mostly for me (as a way to remember the books I’ve read since my feeble brain quickly forgets), it doesn’t much matter how many visitors I have—or don’t have. It seems rather appropriate, then, to come back to life with the book Early Decision, a fictional glimpse into the life of a college essay coach. Between my last post in August, and now–nearly Thanksgiving–I have not only taught four writing classes a day (along with all its requisite grading), but I have worked with nearly 20 students on their college essays. In many ways, I was living the life of the fictional Anne that Crawford brings to life, but with these differences: I charge A LOT less for essay coaching, and I have much better clients. The students I work with are middle class, public school students–most of them at the top of their class. So I get bright, thoughtful, hard-working students without the overbearing, wealthy parents who expect Ivy League, despite their child’s actual ability. What more could I ask for?
And yet, the fictional Anne and I–despite our difference in clientele—actually have much in common: we get to work with interesting kids who have something powerful to say about their lives. We’re part writing teacher, part psychologist, part life coach, part cheerleader, part editor, part parent. The best part of this job is the way we get to know kids through the experiences they choose to write about. And I love that I don’t actually have to put a grade on anything. That’s the beauty of it: these kids are writing what they want to write for a purpose they actually care about. So I get to listen and respond without telling them what will get them a “good grade.” Instead, they decide when they are happy with their essays, and they decide where they want to revise. Honestly, it’s great fun, and that’s what both Anne and I like about it. She, however, has to deal with some awful parents who see only Ivy pennants rather than their own children. And some of those kids whose parents see only Ivy are also weak writers (and not so great students). Good Lord there are some terrible essays in this book. It makes me very proud of the kids at our public school because most of them write much better than her privileged clients. And it’s some of those clients that give this whole industry a bad name. It’s those clients that sometimes want a ghost writer, not a coach. It’s those clients that want a quick fix, a magic pill to get their kids into the best college. But essay coaching is no different from sports coaching. No coach can take a mediocre athlete and make him great in a few sessions. Excellence in anything takes time and practice—a coach is only part of the equation, an “expert” to make sure the athlete is practicing correctly and progressing sufficiently. So why are parents lauded for hiring private sports coaches, yet loathed for hiring private essay or ACT coaches? Why is it considered “cheating” to get private help for standardized tests or college essays or even homework when it’s perfectly fine for parents to fund private lessons for tennis or golf or soccer?
I don’t do anything that a private sports coach wouldn’t do: I don’t “play” (or write) for a student; I simply help that student get to a better place using his/her own talent and hard work. Lacy Crawford did the same through her fictional “Anne,” though admittedly, she had some parents who wanted the miracle that their own parenting couldn’t quite produce.
Though this book is fiction–presumably based on Crawford’s real experiences and yet protective of her actual clients—it does seem to accurately represent this crazy college application process that stresses out so many teenagers at too early an age. The only part that made little sense to me is the number of clients that supposedly got admitted into top-tier colleges with essays–even after Anne’s help–that didn’t seem top-tier to me. I’ve worked with numerous top-notch students—with better grades, scores, and essays—that didn’t get into the top-tier schools many of her clients got into. Ah well….perhaps it’s really all just a game. Sometimes it makes little sense where one student gets in and another doesn’t. My answer: there is a school for everyone, and those who are most qualified and motivated will do the best in the end—even if they don’t make it into the Ivies or other top flight schools. (fiction)