Summary:This chapter from Jessica Singer Early and Meredith DeCosta's Real World Writing for Secondary Students presents a writing workshop for ethnically and linguistically diverse high school students in which students receive instruction on specific genre features of the college admission essay. The chapter offers an overview of the college admission essay genre, key components of the workshop, samples of student writing, and professional resources for teaching the college admission essay. Equally useful as the focus of a professional development session or as the basis for a youth writing program, the chapter is especially relevant for teachers who work with linguistically divers youth as a way of providing access to "gate-opening writing tasks."
The Importance of the College Admission Essay
The college admission essay, personal statements, application letters, and other similar writing tasks hold a great deal of power. However, as with so many writing genres students encounter in their transition from high school to college and from college to the workplace, an air of mystery prevails. As reading skills and literary analysis become increasingly important in the classroom due to high-stakes testing, many students are not provided opportunities to engage in writing tasks that are of any substance, depth, or complexity (Applebee & Langer, 2009). This is disconcerting for students who aspire to attend college and will encounter challenging and complex writing tasks in their college courses, as well as for those students who want solid-paying jobs with high literacy demands (American Diploma Project, 2004).
What is even more concerning is that low-income, second language, and ethnic minorities often miss out on these rich writing opportunities and are more likely to be exposed to skill and drill learning in the classroom due to issues of sorting and tracking as well as ongoing political pressures and scripted curriculum (Kohn, 1999; Oakes & Wells, 1998). Rather than engaging in a rich curriculum that helps them become productive members of the community and find success in college, the workplace, and beyond, far too many ethnically and linguistically diverse youth are immersed in remediated curriculum that is designed to help them perform well on standardized tests. However, engaging in gate-opening writing tasks helps students begin to understand how these tasks function both rhetorically and socially, and provides them with a form of currency that they may use to access and participate in various institutions of power, including universities, businesses, and community organizations….”