The Common-App Chalk Talk
Instruction and Inspiration for
Students, Parents, Teachers & Counselors
Recognizing the need for specific and inspiring writing instruction for students confronting the Common App essay, Hillside offers this 90-minute launch to writing the uncommon essay. Our energetic talk helps college-bound applicants and their support teams to see the essay less as a challenge and more as an opportunity — even an enjoyable one!
"The students left feeling less intimidated by writing and more empowered and more creative. Building the essay out of a small yet clear and detailed idea resonated. Everything about this talk was spot-on."
— John Boozang
Director of College Counseling
Wilbraham & Monson Academy
"As the mother of a high school junior, I never thought I'd hope for a do-over on my college essay, but your talk was so inspiring last night that I found myself wondering on the car ride home what I'd write about if I could turn back the clock! Thanks for such an informative, fun presentation!"
Jamaica Plain, MA
"The workshop Allan led gave our juniors brilliant and dramatically illustrated lessons in the organic practices of writing and revising — and in learning to see in a first draft the seeds of the eventual essay, usually in the form of a telling detail that has within it the promise of the whole. Our students began writing essays that could be seen and sensed, and that told compelling stories. No one I’ve met more effectively communicates the writing process than Allan does."
—Tim Watt, PhD
Chase Collegiate School
The Common-App Chalk Talk is shaped by five core ideas:
A Case-Study Approach
Students gain confidence, ideas, and direction from seeing how past applicants have developed starter ideas into memorable essay material. The exposed process that a peer went through teaches more than the polished and published essay can teach alone.
It's a Request, Not a Test
The Common App essay prompts are not test questions but open requests from an audience eager to listen. The successful essayist is motivated not by the concern that she has to say something in particular but by the pleasure of having something in particular to say.
See and Be Seen
Admissions officers are no different from other readers: they want to be transported; they want to see images in the mind. The essay writer, therefore, must first endeavor to see his own experience. Finding the visual details of one's story not only makes the story sharable and memorable but also enlivens the writing process.
Authenticity is in Discovery
It's not only okay to begin from a place of uncertainty — it's important! An essay becomes fresh and engagingly credible when the process of writing reveals something true about the writer to the writer. Flannery O'Connor's words are apt: “You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don't, probably nobody else will.”
Forget the Essay. Write a Sentence.
Every essay is, of course, made of individual sentences. So, start with one — just one specific, true, complete narrative sentence that would make a reader sit forward in her chair, eager to learn more. Let the conversation that will compel an essay begin from the details in and behind one sentence. (Read about Hillside's Ten Sentences approach here.)