As Emily Dickinson once wrote
in her college essay, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant…” In this post, we’ll help you figure out what that means for your college essay. And give you a basic primer in being friendly to yourself, which really helps.
Shall the truth set you free?
Should you tell the truth about yourself in your college essay? What should you do if you suspect the truth isn’t that purdy?
Does the any of this sound like life in your head?:
What if you feel– or have felt–lost, conflicted, overwhelmed, or disenchanted with your own life?
Or you suspect your special talents and interests aren’t that talented or interesting at all– not when pitted against every other college applicant in the nation and beyond?
What if you harbor the suspicion (yuck!) that you kind of suck? Or worry that the ways you do shine are irrelevant to college admissions? You’ve got the grades, you’ve got the extracurriculars, but you’re not sure you’ve got any other winning qualities?
No problem. Embrace it.
Can you trace the roots of these feelings? Can you decide to start fresh? To tell the truth, and put your slant on it?
What is your talent (you can make a slinky “walk” a mile), your interest (you obsess over recipes for guacamole, and traveled to Mexico in search of the best), your story (you picked your dad up from work every night the year he was depressed) – and what if it didn’t matter how it compared to anyone else’s?
What if your job was to convince us that you don’t live sheerly to impress others, but to follow what sparks your heart, grabs your attention, gives you a sense of purpose, however tiny?
Tell the truth.
And the slant?
A writer’s job is to put a slant on the truth. This isn’t the same as lying. Art is the perspective we take on the material of our lives. And guess what? Because it’s writing whose purpose is to convey your life through your lens– it IS art.
So instead of focusing on how your “truth” might not be that awesome, can you decide it could be fun to find a frame through which to view your life as distinctive and worthy?
Can you decide to choose one thing that has mattered to you, that has bothered you, that has shaped you, and make it fascinating to someone else to read about? Can you puh-lease let me in on your slinky technique, and how you’ve charmed dogs and old people with it?
Can you refuse the urge to make yourself sound better than you are? That frees you up to do the more amazing and much harder work of showing the admissions officers– they are just people too, with their own insecurities, their own fears of not stacking up– who you REALLY are?
Might sound scary, but it’s more interesting for everyone. No, really. The truth gets our attention.
How it benefits you
If someone keeps reading your college essay, as opposed to stopping after the first contrived sentence, that first sniff of a tired-old-grandiose-inflated-self, you have a much better chance of getting into their school. Much. Better.
And your essay won’t suck. Or be a string of lies. And that alone might make you feel kind of amazing about yourself. ESPECIALLY if you got to read the dreadful stack that most admissions officers suffer through.
What I’m saying is, contrary to the old idiom, in writing, reality doesn’t bite. It’s perhaps the best way to gain both personal insight (which no one can ever take from you) AND admissions
(which someone can only take from you if you do some REALLY jack-ass thing the summer before orientation, so definitely don’t!).
Let’s stand together on this far more refreshing ground– of telling it like it is, putting your slant on the truth, and reaping the potential rewards of doing so.
Still not sure how to put it into words? We love to help you through this challenge.