招生官专栏:掏心掏肺写文书,真的好吗?

2014-08-20 09:48:19   环球留学        字号:

       扎沃先生Mr.Zawel

  招办工作经历:康奈尔大学(Cornell)高级招生官员、北卡罗莱纳大学(UNC)商学院招办官员。扎沃先生著有美国升学申请畅销书《打开常春藤秘密》(Untangling the Ivy League)。

  教育背景:康奈尔大学学士学位和北卡罗来纳商学院MBA学位。

  扎沃先生担任IvyGateMBA申请联席专家,Ivygate(藤门国际教育)波士顿办公室负责人之一,并担任IvyGate美国南部学校申请首席专家。扎沃先生曾任职多所大学商学院招生官,从2004年起仍任职康奈尔大学管理学院校友面试官员。扎沃先生已成功输送Ivygate学生就读的大学有:杜兰大学、康奈尔大学、杜克大学、弗吉尼亚大学、北卡罗来纳大学教堂山分校、迈阿密大学、莱斯大学、德克萨斯大学奥斯汀分校等。

  Naked Confessions of the College-Bound

  Oversharing in Admissions Essays

  THE Yale applicant had terrific test scores. She had fantastic grades. As one of Yale’s admissions officers, Michael Motto, leafed through her application, he found himself more and more impressed.

  Then he got to her essay. As he remembers it, she mentioned a French teacher she greatly admired. She described their one-on-one conversation at the end of a school day. And then, this detail: During their talk, when an urge to go to the bathroom could no longer be denied, she decided not to interrupt the teacher or exit the room. She simply urinated on herself.

  “Her point was that she was not going to pull herself away from an intellectually stimulating conversation just to meet a physical need,” said Motto, who later left Yale and founded Apply High, a firm that guides students through the admissions process.

  And his point in bringing her story up during a recent interview? The same as mine in passing it along:

  When it comes to college admissions, our society has tumbled way, way too far down the rabbit hole, as I’ve observed before. And in the warped wonderland where we’ve landed, too many kids attach such a crazy degree of importance to getting into the most selective schools that they do stagy, desperate, disturbing things to stand out. The essay portion of their applications can be an especially jolting illustration of that.

  

       It’s an illustration of something else, too: a tendency toward runaway candor and uncensored revelation, especially about tribulations endured and hardships overcome, among kids who’ve grown up in the era of the overshare. The essay is where our admissions frenzy and our gratuitously confessional ethos meet, producing autobiographical sketches like another that Motto remembers reading at Yale, this one from a male student.

  “He wrote about his genitalia, and how he was under-endowed,” Motto told me. “He was going for something about masculinity and manhood, and how he had to get over certain things.”

  Motto, who was an assistant director of admissions at Yale from 2001 to 2003 and evaluated applications part time from 2007 to 2008, said that essays as shocking as those two were a small minority. Other people who have screened college applications or coached applicants through the admissions process echoed that assessment.

  But they also noted, as he did, an impulse in many essay writers to tug readers into the most intimate corners of their lives and to use unfiltered frankness as a way to grab attention. In some of the essays that students begin to draft and some of the essays that they actually wind up submitting, there are accounts of eating disorders, sexual abuse, self-mutilation, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction. Sally Rubenstone, one of the authors of the “Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions,” has called this “the Jerry Springer-ization of the college admissions essay,” referring to the host of one of the TV talk shows best known for putting private melodrama on a public stage.

  Stephen Friedfeld, one of the founders of AcceptU, an admissions consulting firm, told me that in the essay of a student he and his colleagues worked with this year, he encountered a disorder he’d never heard of before: cyclic vomiting syndrome. And Friedfeld and his colleagues huddled over the wisdom of the student’s account of his struggle with it. Would it seem too gross? Too woe-is-me?

  Their solution was to encourage the student to emphasize the medical education that he’d undertaken in trying to understand his ailment. They also recommended that he inch up to the topic and inject some disarming humor. Friedfeld said that the final essay began something like this: “In my Mom’s car? Yep, I’ve done it there. As I’m waiting in line to eat my lunch in school? Yep, I’ve done it there.” The “it” was left vague for a few sentences.

  Right now, during the summer months between the junior and senior years of high school, many kids who’ll be putting together their college applications in the fall start to sweat the sorts of essays they’ll write. And as they contemplate potential topics, some of them go to highly emotional places.

  “Being a little vulnerable can give great insight into your character,” said Joie Jager-Hyman, a former admissions officer at Dartmouth College and the president of College Prep 360, which helps students assemble their applications. “I’ve had successful essays on topics like ‘my father’s alcoholism’ or ‘my parents got divorced because my dad is gay.’ ”

  She’ll shepherd students through four or more drafts. Michele Hernandez, another prominent admissions counselor, runs one or more sessions of an Application Boot Camp every summer in which roughly 25 to 30 kids will be tucked away for four days in a hotel to work with a team of about eight editors on what she told me were as many as 10 drafts of each of three to five different essays. The camp costs $14,000 per student. That doesn’t include travel to it, the hotel bill, breakfast or dinners, but it does include lunch and a range of guidance, both before and during the four days, on how students should fill out college applications and best showcase themselves.

  Hernandez, Jager-Hyman and others in the booming admissions-counseling business try to steer students away from excessively and awkwardly naked testimonials, which can raise red flags about students’ emotional stability and about their judgment.

  “Admissions officers pay as much attention to students’ choice of essay topic as they do to the details in their essays,” Motto told me.

  He added that admissions officers can sniff out an essay that a student got too much help on, and he told me a funny story about one student he counseled. He said that the boy’s parents “came up with what they thought was the perfect college essay,” which described the boy as the product of “an exceptionally difficult pregnancy, with many ups and downs, trips to the hospital, various doctor visits.”

  “The parents drafted a sketch of the essay and thought it was terrific,” Motto said. Then they showed it to their son, “and he pointed out that everything mentioned happened before he was born.” He ended up choosing a topic that spoke to his post-utero life as a math lover who found a way to use those skills to help patients at a physical rehabilitation center.

  THE blind spots and miscalculations that enter into the essay-writing process reflect the ferocious determination of parents and children to impress the gatekeepers at elite schools, which accept an ever smaller percentage of applicants. Students are convinced that they have to package themselves and communicate in entirely distinctive fashions.

  “We argue that one of the ways to help your case is to show that you have a voice,” said André Phillips, the senior associate director of recruitment and outreach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But in that effort, sometimes students cross the line. In trying to be provocative, sometimes students miss the point.”

  Motto said that one Yale applicant “actually described himself as one of the world’s great Casanovas” and said that his amazing looks inspired envy in other boys and competition among girls vying for his affection.

  In response to several essays about emotional trauma, Motto contacted the students’ secondary schools to make sure that the applicants were O.K. He said he called the guidance counselor at the school of the girl who had urinated on herself, expressing concern about the essay and about whether she might be sabotaging her own application. He said that the counselor was aware of the essay and as baffled by it as Motto was.

  The girl didn’t get into Yale, Motto said. Neither did the boy who mulled his genitalia. And neither did Casanova. There were apparently limits to the reach of his legendary sexual magnetism, and the Gothic spires and ivy-covered walls of a certain campus in New Haven lay beyond them.

  掏心掏肺写文书,真的好吗?

  耶鲁大学本科部门的招生官Michael Motto翻开了一份梦幻般的申请材料:申请者成绩拔尖,背景突出,各方面都极其完美优秀,Michael越看越喜欢。接下来,Michael满怀期待地开始阅读这位学生的申请文书。这篇文章详述了她与其景仰的法语教师在一次放学后的长谈。文章过半,出现了这样一个细节:谈话中,学生突然很想去上厕所。但为了不打断这次谈话,她选择了尿在自己身上。

  “她想表达的是,她不愿意为了自己的生理需要而去打断一场如此智慧汇集、迸发的交流对话,”Michael回忆道。而谈到这件小故事,Michael所想表达的则是:随着美国大学申请这座战场上的竞争日渐激烈,学生家长在拥护“展现独特自我”这个理念上,或许走得有些太远。对名校的渴望让太多孩子染上了一种近乎疯狂的“夺眼球”情结,希望通过在申请材料中掏心掏肺,甚至故意做出一些实在上不了台面的举动来吸引招生官的注意。而文书便成了他们制造噱头的最佳试验田。

  美国大学的招生官发现,生在信息时代并活跃在各种社交网站上的90后申请者,愈渐呈现出一种语不惊人死不休的趋势,而其中更不乏通过过度贩卖自身苦难来博取同情的案例。已经被漫长的申请过程折磨得喘不过气的孩子们,像是在文书中找到了情绪发泄口,抛给招生官一篇接一篇自传小品。Michael对一位申请耶鲁的男同学的奇葩文书也印象非常深刻:

  “他的文书是关于自己的隐私部位 – 他如何因为天生发育不良而感到自卑,”Michael回忆道。“他讲述了一路上自己如何克服由此带来的挫折,并想从这个出发点来谈谈男子气概这个主题。”

  多年担任耶鲁大学招生办的副主任,Michael说这类“雷人”文书仅占极少数。这一说法也被其他经验丰富的招生官认同。然而他们强调,申请者很容易把文书当成坦白内心深处秘密的途径,并以此来拉近和招生官的距离,赢得更多的关注。招生官所遇到的真实案例中,文书的话题从厌食症到遭遇性侵,从自残到家暴,从酗酒到吸毒,遍布社会各个阴暗角落。留学专家Sally Rubenstone把这个现象称为“肥皂剧”文书,指有些电视剧和真人秀节目通过渲染狗血剧情,向公众“秀伤疤”,而博得更高的收视率。

  IvyGate藤门留学首席申请专家Dr. Friedfeld谈到,在刚过去的申请季中,他所帮助的一位学生在文书初稿中写了一种罕见的综合征 – 呕吐症。尽管Dr. Friedfeld很同情这位学生的遭遇,但他和同事们还是对学生对于呕吐的种种描述难以接受:这样赤裸裸地向大学招生官秀伤疤,会不会太过火了?

  Dr. Friedfeld给出的建议是让学生把文书重点更多地放在自己由于希望了解病症,而积极展开的大量医学研究。他更建议学生在文书中运用一些幽默手法,从而避免让招生官从一开始就对文章有反感情绪。这篇文书的最终开头是这样的:“在我妈妈的车里?对,做过。在食堂打饭的队伍里?没错,也做过。”至于“做过”什么,文章诙谐的开场白故意给读者留下了想象的空间。

  如今夏天快要接近尾声,很多高二高三的学生也已经开始筹备策划文书的题材了。这其中有不少孩子打算加入煽情元素。“如果把握好度,书写感性一面可以很好地向招生官展示自己究竟是一个什么样的人,”前任达特茅斯招生官Joie Jager-Hyman谈到。“我曾读过关于‘酒鬼父亲’或‘父亲出柜,父母离婚’这类故事的文书,写得非常成功。”Joie现在是一家留学公司的老板,专门帮助学生撰写文书。同样是一位留学专家,Michele Hernandez也在经营留学生意,通过收费一万四千刀的4天密集夏令营帮助学生修改多至十稿申请文书 – 这还没把夏令营的食宿和飞行花销计算在内。留学申请咨询已经成为一个日渐蓬勃发展的新兴行业。大量的留学专家通过自身丰富的经验,甚至在招生办多年的工作经历,协助孩子们避开不合时宜的“掏心掏肺”,寻求感性和过火之间的平衡点。

  Michael提到:“招生官对文书选材的关注不亚于对文章细节的考量。”他还强调经验丰富的招生官一眼就可以看出学生的文章是否获得过多的外界帮助。曾有一对申请者家长认为他们为孩子创造出了最完美无瑕的申请文书。Michael笑谈到,文书居然是关于这位学生如何历尽艰辛被生出来:全文优美动人地描写了母亲在孕期克服了种种挑战,最终获得了一个优秀的宝宝。“这对父母认为这篇文书感人至深,”Michael说,直到他们的儿子读过后,指出“文书中每一个细节都发生在他出生之前。”这位学生最后还是选择了一件从妈妈肚子里出来之后发生的事,讲述他运用数学思维巧妙地帮助了一家康复中心的病人。

  这种对申请文书过于谨慎看重,反而弄巧成拙,导致雷人案例不断发生的现象,反映出学生和家长对名校有限录取名额的凶残争夺。学生认为只有过度包装自己的申请材料,并且毫无原则地敞开心扉,才能赢得竞争名校的一席之地。

  “我们认为学生需要通过文书发出自己独特的声音,”André Phillips谈到。他是威斯康星麦迪逊大学的副招办主任。“但学生不留神就会跨过那条不容易把控的界限,只顾倾吐,无所顾忌,却找错了重点。”Michael记得一名耶鲁申请者居然在文书中把自己形容为“世界上为数不多风流倜傥的花花公子,”还说他帅气的相貌在学校引起所有男生的嫉妒以及女生的仰慕。

  而对于那些讲述情感创伤的文书,Michael会在读完后给学生的高中打个电话,以确定这位学生没有心理问题。他的确给尿在自己身上那位姑娘的学校打了电话,向她的升学咨询师表达了对这个孩子心理状况的担忧,并建议该学生不要这样破坏自己本应完美的申请材料。学生的咨询师同样困惑,不知道学生选择这个文书题材到底意义何在。

  耶鲁最终没有录取这名学生,而畅谈自己隐私部位的那位男同学也惨遭拒绝。“花花公子”同样申请失败。他那万人迷般的外貌优势,最终也无法获得常青藤学府的青睐。

  Ivygate(藤门国际教育)简介:IvyGate是立足于中美两国的高端国际留学咨询服务机构,在北京、波士顿均有办公室。Ivygate拥有41位美国前三十名校甚至常青藤名校的前招生办官员1对1服务学生、常年保持100%申请成功率、90%学生进入美国大学前三十名校、每年仅服务200名左右的学生。

  在国内,只有藤门一家有这样的前招生官资源。另外,藤门还有全球500强知名企业的合作关系,为学生提供高端实习机会,比如外资银行、四大会计师事务所这样的全球知名企业。

  如果您需要详细了解藤门留学的服务可以通过以下方式联系我们

  Ivygate(藤门国际教育)网址: www.ivygate.cn

  Ivygate(藤门国际教育)咨询电话:010-52298330

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