Essay camp

Affluent high school students are preparing to write college applications at essay camp, reports the Wall Street Journal.

If 15-year-old Anna Zvagelskaya were a shoe, she writes, she would be pink, with a very pointy toe, a flared heel, straps and a diamond buckle.

It’s five months before the application deadline at most elite colleges, and a year and five months before Ms. Zvagelskaya’s application is due at Harvard, her top choice. But on a summer day here at Tufts University, the San Francisco high-school junior and a dozen other teenagers are enrolled in a two-week college-application camp, spending two hours a day in class — and hours more each night — crafting the essays that they hope will vault them to the head of the college queue.

I’m in Raleigh for a few days and had lunch with Betsy Newmark, who showed me Raleigh Charter Academy, where she teaches, and e-mailed me this story. Betsy doesn’t think colleges are looking for kids who write phony, mannered essays. Or for shoe fetishists.

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  1. KimJ721 says:

    I took and later co-taught a college application essay through my (public) school system’s summer school. The classes didn’t teach students to write phony or formulaic essays. What they did was a.) give exposure to the topics that show up on applications (before the Common Application became universal), b.) help with grammar and phrasing, and c.) occasionally suggest ways to improve the structure of the essay, such as when you describe an event in your life make sure you mention how it changed you.

    The rough draft of an essay that stands out the most in my memory when I taught it was a prep school student writing an essay about how he wanted to be a doctor to help people and because everyone in his family was a doctor. He wrote about four sentences on the former and a page and a half on the latter. I gently suggested that he should write far more about his personal reasons for his career choice and eliminate his laundry list of every relative with an MD.

  2. But the whole idea that students feel the need appeal to “what the colleges are looking for” is part of the problem. Students who feel the need to spend their summer preparing for a college application are missing out on *living*, not to mention glorious opportunties for a variety of educational experiences.

    Maybe we need more colleges; maybe we need to get rid of the idea that everyone should go to college.

    Is the shoe fetishist actually wrong? Maybe, but how often does an admissions counselor want to read about the student who was changed by reading the Fountainhead, how their brother’s illness made them want to study biochemistry, how Hillary Clinton is their role model? How many ideas could a single 17 yr old even have?

  3. How many ideas could a single 17 yr old even have?

    Some have a surprising number of interesting, original ideas that never make it into these essays because they are told to mention things by which the admissions officers will be impressed.

    “Pick this or that event because it indicates hardship. If you’ve read any of these books, be sure to mention them because they’re intellectual books. Mention people who the admissions officers are likely to admire.” At least that’s the way it was when I was in high school not terribly long ago. Seems as though it’s getting worse, not better. Makes me wonder sometimes what the real point of college application essays is.

  4. Or perhaps the kids should learn that not getting in to Harvard is not the end of the world.


  5. How does a college application essay differ from a job application/interview? Sounds pretty much the same, really.

  6. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Geez…and I remember summer camp as riding horses, playing on the trampoline, swimming, hiking, fishing, etc. Nothing wrong with the newfangled ‘theme’ camps, but calling a summer writing tutorial ‘essay camp’ is an advertising exec’s dream. I have some more ideas for theme camps:

    1. Bully Camp…bullies of all ages and ethnicities get together and try out their best intimidation techniques. This 6-week camp is divided into violent and nonviolent bullying courses.

    2. No Child Left Behind Camp…this camp is devoted exclusively to deciphering and manipulating the API scores of every school in the country. Great math practice, as well.

    3. Camp Infidel…a nonjudgemental place where all infidel children can learn about the Religion of Peace–or else.

    4. Faux Kidz in the Suburban Hoodz Camp…much like Essay Camp, kids can refine their rap musick vocabulary and respellings of various wordz, so that one day, they can get into the politically correct Ivy League collej of their choiz. 2 good 2 not sign up 4!

    5. Camp NEA…co-funded by the American Communist Party, Spartacus Youth League and the ACLU. No competitions of any kind allowed.

    6. Teacher Camp….fun in the sun…lots of alcohol and analgesics available…target shooting practice (bring photos of your favorite administrator or parent).

    Have a wonderful summer.

  7. “How does a college application essay differ from a job application/interview?” It differs a lot, because the discussion can’t be pre-scripted (unless the interviewer is a very weak one)

  8. Greifer says:

    The point of the essay is clear: to give people a way to accept a student by something other than quantitative stats, because the people in most admissions departments tend to be the kinds of people who don’t like quantitative measures in the first place, and believe that they are “unfair”.

    I still disagree with the idea of original ideas–Sure, some students could manage it. But now you are just creating a situation rife for disaster: you have to be creative without being alarming; interesting without being mentally unstable, because adults do not have teenage sensibilities. If 17 yr olds knew that line, they would not be teenagers any longer..

  9. elfcharm says:

    Can we have a general merging of camp number 1 and 6? Being a counselor at number 1 would be fun, however, number 6 sounds like a blast.
    where do I sign up?

  10. A camp for bullies – might be a better idea than intended. Like a prison, it isolates them from society, and potential victims. And who gets to be the victims at the bully camp, with no designated victim caste? Just other bullies.

  11. In principle, a college application is much the same as a job application. In some ways, the college application is fairer and more objective. And there are many weak interviewers out there.

  12. Camp 1 seems to be lacking something, victims. Maybe that’s what Essay Camp is for?

  13. Excellent! I’m going to tell my seniors they’re in Essay Camp in September, and that they can’t write about shoes (I might have to drink heavily or something after reading that essay through three or four revisions). Actually, this is one of the few things I do that actually gets lots of appreciation from parents and students. They read stuff like this and realize how much money I’m saving them, I guess. (Unlike the research papers for the earlier grades, which are equally as horrendous an ordeal for everyone involved, but for which the parents and students show no appreciation whatsoever :).)