Sara Caplan graduated from Harvard College in 2015, and she now lives in LA where she works as an essay tutor and teaches sculpture classes at a community welding shop. She believes that one of the biggest secrets to an interesting life is to "stay floaty," aka to remain open to the currents of life, ready to ride them into the unexpected. This applies to college admissions as well — if we get too dead set on a particular school or a particular essay topic, we'll become blind to all the many wonderful other options around us! There is not a single best school for any student. In fact, whether or not a student will be successful in college or beyond has a whole lot more to do with how ready they are to take advantage of college — how ready they are to dive into their studies, how willing they are to take risks, try new activities, and make new friends — than the branding on the degree.
When it comes to essays specifically, the trick is getting a student to relax. Schools, teachers, and, yes, parents have built up college so much and put so much pressure on these teenagers that they often literally believe that the 650 word Common App essay is the make-or-break decider for their shot at a happy life. I know that sounds insane, but it's true! I've worked with students who have panic attacks at the thought of writing this essay. Students are being told that they need to start working on this essay years before they even apply. A two page essay! It's no wonder they freeze up so much — nobody can write creatively under that kind of insane pressure.
If the student is stressed and paralyzed with anxiety while writing, that essay will be stressful to read. If the student can genuinely relax and find some fun in the process of writing, then that essay will be fun to read. My job as an essay tutor is largely to help students relax, breathe, and try to rediscover the joy of writing. When viewed from the right perspective, a personal essay is a rare chance for a student to formally engage in self-exploration, self-reflection, and self-expression. This is a chance for them to learn about and communicate what they feel is important about themselves. That's awesome! We need to let them fully engage with that process and not bury them with stress.
Sara is a trans woman, and while she loves working with any student, she especially loves to work with young queer or questioning high schoolers, because she knows how hard it can be to be a young person and fear that your teachers and tutors either won't understand you or, worse, will judge you.
You can contact Sara directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.