5 Questions: Elise LaRocco

Elise LaRocco

Elise LaRocco (Photo by A. Rooney)

Elise LaRocco, a writer who lives in Cold Spring, will be conducting free workshops on Oct. 7 and Oct. 9 on how to write a college application essay. Register at butterfieldlibrary.org.

What will you be doing at the sessions?
I’ll be going over the students’ drafts and pointing out anything that sounds awkward or that’s grammatically wrong. I ask, “What’s your opinion on this?” I want to hear the student’s voice.

So a parent should not help write the essay?
No. Admissions people know the 17-year-old voice; they’re reading thousands of essays, and they can tell when someone is trying to imitate it. All I do is ask questions.

How important is the essay?
It’s extremely important because it allows the college to see who you are. They’re trying to get a compatible group of all different types of students. There may be a slew of applicants with the same grades and test scores, so it differentiates. Students should also differentiate themselves throughout the application. If a college asks, “Why do you want to come here?,” don’t write, “Because of your great academics.” Find something unique that intrigues you.

Should students tailor their essay to what a school is looking for?
It’s impossible to predict what any college will want that year. Every admissions person will tell you: They want to learn about you. One example given to me is that if you dropped the essay in the hallway with no name, the teachers and students would know whose it was. The most common mistake students make is not putting themselves into the essay. Introspective writing can be difficult because  it isn’t done much in high school classwork.

What do you tell students who haven’t had any “college essay” moments?
At a Yale information session, they said the best essay they had the year before was from an applicant who wrote about the 15-minute walk to school each morning. Ordinary can be interesting if you are able to reflect on it. I had a student who talked about working for his father over the summer, thinking it was just to earn money. Instead it helped his overcome his shyness because he had to interact with customers. Another wrote about the baton hand-off in a track relay race and the trust you needed to have in your teammate.

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