Lindsey Sternthal’s response to what she spends too much time thinking about offers a small window into all that goes on in her imagination. That “everything” includes, but isn’t limited to, meditations on unconventional mysteries, wonderings about the supernatural, and futures of traveling and living overseas. Having graduated from Blind Brook High School this spring, Lindsey is a lover of reading and writing, baking, music, and long drives. Writing poetry (for no one’s eyes but her own) is her own form of therapy.
When brainstorming her college essay, Lindsey knew she wanted to let her imagination run. She just didn’t know where it should run to in order for it to reflect her best self to admissions officers at top colleges. Cue: Carnegie Prep essay specialist and educational consultant, Anya Liftig. With Anya’s guidance, Lindsey was able to transform her musings on ghosts into an inimitable and totally unique essay based upon the following question: “If you could speak with a ghost, what would you say?”
We had the opportunity to sit down with Anya and Lindsey to discuss their process of working together to create an essay that knocks the ball out of the park—an essay that would help her application stand out in the admissions process.
At the heart of effective tutoring lies a genuine and positive relationship between the student and tutor. “I like to think of myself as a doula or sherpa for the college essay and application process,” Anya says. Starting with the overall picture, Anya pores over a student’s resume, transcript, and any ideas regarding target schools before the very first introductory call. From there, she’s able to get a sense of the whole picture—what should the essay highlight that the rest of a student’s application doesn’t already? The first session with Anya usually takes place in the form of an interview—this is a moment for Anya and the student to really get to know each other and start to build a relationship. By asking questions about a student’s passions, quirks, interests, and irritations, Anya begins to identify what traits might shine in a student’s college essay. A few examples of free-writing topics include, “What’s your first memory?”, “What was your favorite toy as a child?”, “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?” Before long, those questions turn into free-writing brainstorming assignments, and golden essay topics start to emerge.
Lindsey and Anya began their sessions last summer, prompted by Lindsey’s uncertainty on where to begin: “I honestly had no idea what a college essay was supposed to look like…I hadn’t a clue what would make a good topic or what about my life would be interesting enough to turn into an impressive essay,” says Lindsey. In the first couple of sessions, she and Anya tossed questions back and forth, trying to figure out which Common App essay prompt would best magnify Lindsey’s thoughtful and creative voice. Lindsey told us that while “trying to come up with a topic, Anya and I talked about my interests and it became clear that I am fascinated by unconventional mysteries, things like conspiracy theories and the supernatural.” From there, Anya asked her a simple question: if you encountered a ghost, what might you say? Lindsey took the answer and ran with it, inquiring about questions of a ghost’s afterlife, unexpected arrival, potential unfinished business… all in just over 600 words.
Part of Anya’s craft as a college essay specialist is to work with the student to help them effectively present their own narrative. She says, “I believe that my true specialty is bringing out the unique voice of each applicant. This means honing, amplifying and shaping the student’s message, not dominating it, rewriting it or usurping it.” Anya notes that the most essential function of the college essay is not telling a story about one’s characteristics as a student, but demonstrating why a student does the things that they do—the what is already in a student’s application. And, how do you know when an essay is in its final form? “You enter in one place and end up in another place.” Anya notes that an essay is complete when you feel as though the student has gone through a transformation through the essay and you, the reader, have transformed alongside them.
Anyone who reads Lindsey’s essay can immediately tell that she is thoughtful, curious, open-minded, and extremely intelligent. She is excited to attend Emory University this fall, where she hopes to pursue her passion for creative writing.