CASE STUDY: Abigail
Abigail was a junior attending a selective high school in Chicago. A competitive swimmer, Abigail met me at the door saying, “All I do is swim and I don’t want to write about swimming.”
She had a rough draft of her college essay, which was interesting in terms of telling a story about social pressure but revealed very little about Abigail’s interests, hopes or ideas. Also, she seemed annoyed by the idea she needed a coach explaining that she was a very private person who worked best alone. I listened and agreed that working alone was ideal but sometimes collaboration was helpful.
“Is swimming very solitary?”
“You’re alone and then you’re part of a team. I like being independent but I also like to be with other people.”
“What else do you like to do?”
“Stars and planets? Tell me more.”
“I always loved the planetarium. My dad took me there often when I was little. I love the idea of the Universe having infinite possibilities.”
We looked back at Abigail’s rough draft and I suggested she incorporate her swim practice into the narrative but not to have the focus be on the activity but rather how it made her feel. We met several more times and each draft of Abigail’s Common Application was more concise yet more revealing, focused on the future with details about the past that gave the reader a strong sense of who she was. She told me it was cathartic to write about losing her friend group but that she saw she needed to see that as a step towards independence and making new friends in college. By reframing the main idea the essay went from a tale of woe centered on ‘mean girls’ to the perspective of ‘infinite possibilities’.