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记住这几条,让你的大学申请文书不同凡响How to Conquer the Admissions Essay

Education LifeBy RACHEL TOORAugust 3, 2017
教育RACHEL TOOR2017年8月3日

Yana Paskova for The New York Times

埃斯特拉·劳雷亚诺在长岛的写作研习班打磨自己的大学申请书写作技巧。

记住这几条,让你的大学申请文书不同凡响How to Conquer the Admissions Essay

记住这几条,让你的大学申请文书不同凡响How to Conquer the Admissions Essay

Picture this before you plop yourself down in front of your computer to compose your college application essay: A winter-lit room is crammed with admissions professionals and harried faculty members who sit around a big table covered with files. The admissions people, often young and underpaid, buzz with enthusiasm; the professors frequently pause to take off their glasses and rub their eyes.

在坐到电脑前埋头准备大学入学申请书之前,想象这样一个场面:一个昏暗的房间里挤满了招生工作人员和被不断打搅的教员,他们围坐在一张堆满文件的大桌子边。招生人员通常是薪水微薄的年轻人,充满热情;教授们时常要停下来,摘下眼镜,揉搓自己的眼睛。

These exhausted folks, hopped up from eating too many cookies and brownies, have been sitting in committee meetings for days after spending a couple of months reading applications, most of which look pretty similar: baseball = life, or debate = life, or “I went to a developing country and discovered poor people can be happy.”

这些疲劳的人,在过量的曲奇和布朗尼的刺激下,已经开了几天的委员会会议,在这之前则用了几个月的时间阅读申请文书,那些文书绝大多数是差不多的:棒球=我的生命,或者辩论=我的生命,或者“我去了一个发展中国家,发现穷人也可以是快乐的。”

They wade through long lists of candidates, state by state, region by region. The best applications and the weakest don’t come to committee. It’s the gigantic stack in the middle that warrants discussion.

他们面对一长串候选人,要逐州、逐地区地筛查。最好的和最弱的申请是不会让委员会过手的。需要讨论的是中间那一大堆不上不下的申请。

The truth is, most essays are typical. Many are boring. Some are just plain bad. But occasionally one will make an admissions officer tear down the hallway to find a colleague to whom she can say, “You have to read what this Math Olympiad girl said about ‘Hamlet.’ ” Your goal is to write an essay that makes someone fall in love with you.

现实是绝大多数申请书是没特点的。许多是乏味的。有的根本就很糟糕。但是,偶尔会有一份申请让招生官冲到走廊里找到一个同事,对她说,“你一定要读一读这个奥数姑娘对《哈姆雷特》的看法。”你的目标是写一份让某人爱上你的申请书。

Once you commit the time and emotional energy to get your butt in the chair to write, you face a daunting task — figuring out what to write about. If you’re stuck, you’re in good company. With so much freedom, this is a challenge for most students.

一旦你拿出时间和感情让自己坐到椅子上写作,你就面临一个令人畏惧的任务——确定自己要写什么。如果你卡住了,那很正常,很多人都这样。这么大的自由度对大部分学生来说都是一项挑战。

Here’s a tip: Choose a topic you really want to write about. If the subject doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the reader. Write about whatever keeps you up at night. That might be cars, or coffee. It might be your favorite book or the Pythagorean theorem. It might be why you don’t believe in evolution or how you think kale must have hired a PR firm to get people to eat it.

有一个小窍门:写你真正想写的话题。如果那个话题对你来说不重要,那么你的读者也不会觉得它重要。写晚上让你难以入眠的任何东西。可能是汽车或咖啡。也可能是你最喜欢的书或毕达哥拉斯定理。也可能是你为什么相信进化论,或者为什么你认为羽衣甘蓝肯定雇了一个公关公司来说服人们吃它。

A good topic will be complex. In school, you were probably encouraged to write papers that took a side. That’s fine in academic work when you’re being asked to argue in support of a position, but in a personal essay, you want to express more nuanced thinking and explore your own clashing emotions. In an essay, conflict is good.

一个好话题应该是复杂的。在学校里,你很可能被鼓励写那种表明立场的论文。在学术研究中,那是没问题的,因为你需要论述自己为什么支持某种观点,但在有关个人的文章中,你需要表达更微妙的想法,探索自己的矛盾情绪。一篇文章中有冲突是好事。

For example, “I love my mom. She’s my best friend. We share clothes and watch ‘The Real Housewives’ of three different cities together” does not make for a good essay. “I love my mom even though she makes me clean my room, hates my guinea pig and is crazy about disgusting food like kale” could lead somewhere

例如,“我爱我的妈妈。她是我最好的朋友。我们经常借彼此的衣服穿,一起看三个城市版的《家庭主妇》(The Real Housewives)”——这不会是一篇好文章。“我爱我的妈妈,尽管她逼我打扫房间,讨厌我的天竺鼠,痴迷羽衣甘蓝这种恶心的食物”——这可以引出有意思的内容。

While the personal essay has to be personal, a reader can learn a lot about you from whatever you choose to focus on and how you describe it. One of my favorites from when I worked in admissions at Duke University started out, “My car and I are a lot alike.” The writer then described a car that smelled like wet dog and went from 0 to 60 in, well, it never quite got to 60.

虽然有关个人的文章必须个人化,但读者还是能从你选择关注的任何话题中以及你描述它的方式上获得对你的很多了解。我在杜克大学(Duke University)招生处工作时,最喜欢的一个开头是:“我和我的车很像。”然后作者描述了一辆闻起来像淋湿的狗的汽车,它的0到60迈加速时间是——呃,它从来跑不到60迈。

Another guy wrote about making kimchi with his mom. They would go into the garage and talk, really talk: “Once my mom said to me in a thick Korean accent, ‘Every time you have sex, I want you to make sure and use a condo.’ I instantly burst into laughter and said, ‘Mom, that could get kind of expensive!’ ” A girl wrote about her feminist mother’s decision to get breast implants.

另一名男生写到他和妈妈一起做韩式泡菜的经历。他们会走进车库聊天——真的是聊天哦:“有一次,我妈妈带着浓重的韩国口音对我说,‘我希望你每次做爱用一套房子(condo,为condomn[避孕套]之误。——译注)。’我一下子笑喷了,说,‘妈,那可能很贵呢!’”一名女生写了她的女权主义妈妈要去隆胸的决定。

A car, kimchi, Mom’s upsizing — the writers used these objects as vehicles to get at what they had come to say. They allowed the writer to explore the real subject: This is who I am.

汽车,泡菜,妈妈隆胸——作者们用这些话题作为载体,表达他们的主旨。他们可以由此讨论真正的主题:我是一个什么样的人。

Don’t brag about your achievements. Instead, look at times you’ve struggled or, even better, failed. Failure is essayistic gold. Figure out what you’ve learned. Write about that. Be honest and say the hardest things you can. And remember those exhausted admissions officers sitting around a table in the winter. Jolt them out of their sugar coma and give them something to be excited about.

不要夸耀你的成就。相反,回想你痛苦挣扎甚至失败的时刻。失败是散文的黄金话题。说清楚你从中学到了什么。写写那些。诚实地说出最难说出口的话。记住,那些疲惫的招生处工作人员冬天围坐在圆桌旁。把他们从高血糖昏迷中叫醒,给他们一点令人兴奋的东西。

10 Things Students Should Avoid

学生应该避免写的十件事

REPEATING THE PROMPT Admissions officers know what’s on their applications. Don’t begin, “A time that I failed was when I tried to beat up my little brother and I realized he was bigger than me.” You can start right in: “As I pulled my arm back to throw a punch, it struck me: My brother had gotten big. Bigger than me.”

重复提示语 招生处的工作人员知道申请表上有哪些内容。所以,不要这样开头,“我的一次失败经历是,我想打我弟弟,结果发现他的块头比我还大。”你可以开门见山地说:“我挥起胳膊,想打他一拳,却猛然发现:我的弟弟已经长大了。块头比我还大。”

LEAVE WEBSTER’S OUT OF IT Unless you’re using a word like “prink” (primp) or “demotic” (popular) or “couloir” (deep gorge), you can assume your reader knows the definition of the words you’ve written. You’re better off not starting your essay with “According to Webster’s Dictionary . . . .”

别引用词典 除非在使用“prink”(打扮)、“demotic”(通俗)、“couloir”(深谷)之类的词,否则你大可以假设读者知道你写的词是什么意思。最好不要这样开始你的文章:“根据韦氏词典的定义……”

THE EPIGRAPH Many essays start with a quote from another writer. When you have a limited amount of space, you don’t want to give precious real estate to someone else’s words.

引言 很多文章都会在开头引用别人的话。当文章篇幅有限的时候,你肯定不会想让其他什么人的话占据珍贵的版面。

YOU ARE THERE! When writing about past events, the present tense doesn’t allow for reflection. All you can do is tell the story. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. Some beginning writers think the present tense makes for more exciting reading. You’ll see this is a fallacy if you pay attention to how many suspenseful novels are written in past tense.

你就在那里! 描述过去的事情时,现在时的句子是不容许有思考活动的。你能做的只是讲故事。先发生了什么,后发生了什么,又发生了什么。一些经验较少的写作者会认为,现在时态会让读者感到兴奋。如果注意到有多少扣人心弦的小说是用过去时态写就的,你就会明白这是一种谬见。

SOUND EFFECTS Ouch! Thwack! Whiz! Whooooosh! Pow! Are you thinking of comic books? Certainly, good writing can benefit from a little onomatopoeia. Clunk is a good one. Or fizz. But once you start adding exclamation points, you’re wading into troubled waters. Do not start your essay with a bang!

音效 Ouch(哎呦)!Thwack(咔嚓)!Whooooosh(呼呼)!Pow(啪))!想起漫画书了?诚然,少量使用拟声词可以让好文章锦上添花。Clunk(哐当)就不错。或者fizz(嘶嘶)。但你一旦开始添加感叹号,就一脚踏进了浑水里。别让你的文章在一声巨响中开头!

ACTIVE BODY PARTS One way to make your reader giggle is to give body parts their own agency. When you write a line like “His hands threw up,” the reader might get a visual image of hands barfing. “My eyes fell to the floor.” Ick.

活用身体的组成部分 让读者情不自禁笑出声来的一个方法是,多多提及身体的组成部分。当你写下“His hands threw up”(意为他摊开双手,但threw up也有呕吐的意思——译注)这个句子时,读者眼前或许会浮现双手呕吐的画面。“My eyes fell to the floor。”(意为我的视线落在地板上,字面意思是我的眼睛跌到地板上。——译注)有点恶心。

CLICHÉS THINK YOUR THOUGHTS FOR YOU Here’s one: There is nothing new under the sun. We steal phrases and ideas all the time. George Orwell’s advice: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

套语会遮蔽你的思想 这里就有一句:太阳底下没有新鲜事。我们常常借用别人的措辞或观点。乔治·奥威尔(George Orwell)的建议是:避免使用那些你常在印刷物上见到的暗喻、明喻或其他比喻手法。

TO BE OR NOT TO BE Get rid of “to be” verbs. Replace “was” in “The essay was written by a student; it was amazing and delightful” and you’ll get: “The student’s essay amazed and delighted me.” We’ve moved from a static description to a sprightlier one and cut the word count almost in half.

TO BE 还是 NOT TO BE 远离“to be”类动词。把“The essay was written by a student; it was amazing and delightful”(这篇文章出自一个学生之手;读来令人惊叹而又愉悦)中的“was”换掉,变成:“The student’s essay amazed and delighted me。”(这个学生的文章让我感到惊叹又愉悦)这样一来,我们不仅把静态的描述变成了更加精彩的描述,还让句子的字数几乎少了一半。

WORD PACKAGES Some phrases — free gift, personal beliefs, final outcome, very unique — come in a package we don’t bother to unpack. They’re redundant.

固定搭配 有些词组——free gift(免费赠品)、personal beliefs(个人信仰)、final outcome(最终结果),very unique(非常独特)——经常一起出现,我们没有拆开。这样的词组是冗余的。

RULES TO IGNORE In English class, you may have to follow a list of rules your teacher says are necessary for good grammar: Don’t use contractions. No sentence fragments. It’s imperative to always avoid split infinitives. Ending on a preposition is the sort of English up with which teachers will not put. And don’t begin a sentence with a conjunction like “and” or “but” or “because.” Pick up a good book. You’ll see that the best authors ignore these fussy, fusty rules.

忽略规则 在英语课堂上,你或许必须遵循一大堆规则,老师说只有这样才能打下良好的语法基础:别使用缩写。别使用不完整的句子。必须避免拆分不定式。以介词结尾的英语句子是老师们无法忍受的。还有,别把“and”、“but”、“because”之类的连词放在句子开头。请拿起一本好书。你会看到最好的作者根本不理会这些吹毛求疵的陈腐规则。

更正:本文中文版稍早时将倒数第二段中的redundant一词误译为“有很多”,应为“冗余的”。特此更正。

Copyright © 2017 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.
本文作者Rachel Toor是位于斯波坎的东华盛顿大学(Eastern Washington University)的创意写作课教授。本文来自于她的新书《用写作赢得录取:创作一篇令人难忘的大学申请文书》(Write Your Way In: Crafting an Unforgettable College Admissions Essay)。

Essays About Work and Class That Caught a College’s Eye
Your MoneyBy RON LIEBERMay 29, 2015

Of the 1,200 or so undergraduate admission essays that Chris Lanser reads each year at Wesleyan University, maybe 10 are about work.

This is not much of a surprise. Many applicants have never worked. Those with plenty of money may be afraid of calling attention to their good fortune. And writing about social class is difficult, given how mixed up adolescents often are about identity.

Yet it is this very reluctance that makes tackling the topic a risk worth taking at schools where it is hard to stand out from the thousands of other applicants. Financial hardship and triumph, and wants and needs, are the stuff of great literature. Reflecting on them is one excellent way to differentiate yourself in a deeply personal way.

Each year, to urge them on, we put out an open call for application essays about these subjects and publish the best essays that we can find. This year, we chose seven with the help of Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford whose new book, “How to Raise an Adult,” is coming out next month.

The essays that came over the transom were filled with raw, decidedly mixed feelings about parents and their sacrifices; trenchant accounts of the awkwardness of straddling communities with vastly different socio-economic circumstances; and plain-spoken — yet completely affecting — descriptions of what it means to make a living and a life in America today.

The single most memorable line we read this year came from an essay by Carolina Sosa, who lives in Centreville, Va., and will attend Georgetown University. In writing about her father’s search for a job, she described the man named Dave who turned him away.

“Job searching is difficult for everyone, but in a world full of Daves, it’s almost impossible,” she wrote. “Daves are people who look at my family and immediately think less of us. They think illegal, poor and uneducated. Daves never allow my dad to pass the first round of job applications. Daves watch like hawks as my brother and I enter stores. Daves inconsiderately correct my mother’s grammar. Because there are Daves in the world, I have become a protector for my family.”

Vanessa J. Krebs, assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Georgetown, who reads about 1,400 essays year, told me that when she first received my interview request, the phrase “the Daves” immediately jumped out of her memory bank.
Though Ms. Sosa might easily have become embittered by her encounters with the Daves, Ms. Krebs said that she was moved by the fact that the essay concluded with the desire to pursue a career in public service, even if she wasn’t exactly sure where that desire would take her.

“This is a starting point, and she is still figuring that out,” Ms. Krebs said. “A lot of people think they need to have all the answers already. Or they feel like they do have it all figured out.”

Martina Piñeiros with her mother outside the family home in Chicago. She writes about their relationship.

Nathan Weber for The New York Times.

Martina Piñeiros with her mother outside the family home in Chicago. She writes about their relationship.

Other memorable moments emerged in an essay by Martina Piñeiros, a Chicago resident who will be attending Northwestern University.

“Fatigue and two jobs had ruined who both my parents used to be, and I began to value the little time I had with my mother more than ever before,” she wrote. “This little time could not make up for the time I spent alone, however, nor could it assuage the envy I had of the little girl my mother looked after. She, though not my mother’s daughter, had the privilege of having my mother and her delicious cooking all to herself; I would always get the leftovers. She also had the privilege of having my mother pin her silky blonde hair into a pretty bun before ballet classes while my dad wrestled with the hairbrush to pull my thick brown hair into two lopsided ponytails before dropping me off at the bus stop. But I couldn’t blame the girl for depriving me of my mother; her parents had also been consumed by their jobs.”

It is rare that any teenagers write well about what it is like to have more money than average. Most don’t even try, for fear of being marked as privileged in a world where some people resent those who have it or are clueless about it. Yorana Wu, who lives in Great Neck, N.Y., and will attend the University of Chicago, wrote about her father, who spends much of the year in China, where he opened a canned fruit factory when Ms. Wu was 8 years old.

Yorana Wu, at her home in Great Neck, N.Y., writes about her feelings about wealth.
Bryan Thomas for The New York Times.

Yorana Wu, at her home in Great Neck, N.Y., writes about her feelings about wealth.

“That was the first year a seat at the dinner table remained empty and a car in the garage sat untouched,” she wrote. “Every dollar comes at the expense of his physical distance.”

While she has her tennis and music lessons (and expresses mixed feelings about the affluence that allows for them), she speaks to him in five-minute phone segments when he is away.

“He is living the American dream by working elsewhere,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims, my fellow reader, observed. “There is a cost to this choice.”

We published a pair of essays about what it means to navigate two worlds simultaneously. One, by Annabel La Riva, who is also the subject of a video feature, discusses the distance (in more ways than one) between her Brooklyn home and her Manhattan church choir, where her love for singing began.

In another, Jon Carlo Dominguez of North Bergen, N.J., discusses his choice to turn right out his front door, toward the prep school he attends, instead of left, toward his neighborhood school. When the two schools meet on the football field, he writes, some of his classmates shout, “That’s all right, that’s O.K., you’ll be working for us someday.” His response is to tutor his local friends with his used test-preparation books, share guides to lucid dreaming and pass on tips he learned from Dale Carnegie.

“Every single day he is making a choice, and he is conscious of the costs and the benefits on both sides,” Ms. Lythcott-Haims said. “The way that he addresses it is beautiful. He’s trying to bridge that world and be that bridge.”
One of the 10 or so essays that Mr. Lanser, the associate dean of admission for Wesleyan, read about work this year was set at a Domino’s Pizza store in Forestdale, Ala. Adriane Tharp, who will attend the university in the fall, is the author, and her rendering of the lineup of fellow misfits who were her colleagues there is something to behold.

In her college essay, Annabel La Riva, a LaGuardia High School Senior, writes about transcending class differences and finding her own voice through music. Ms. La Riva plans to attend Kenyon College.

Misha Friedman for The New York Times.

In her college essay, Annabel La Riva, a LaGuardia High School Senior, writes about transcending class differences and finding her own voice through music. Ms. La Riva plans to attend Kenyon College.

There is the pizza maker from Pakistan who looks like Bob Dylan and sings folk songs from his homeland; the part-time preacher who also delivers pies; and Richard, the walking “Star Wars” encyclopedia. One woman has worked for pizzerias for over 25 years and is about to apply to college.

“The point of the essay is not to tell us that she needs work or doesn’t,” Mr. Lanser said. “What she wants us to learn from this is that she is able to embrace difference and learn quite a bit from those differences.”

I offered him the opportunity to disabuse overeager parents of the notion that admissions officers at competitive colleges devalue work experience, and he laughed. “We think there are valuable life skills and people skills to be gained in the workplace,” he said, adding that he personally believes that everyone should work in the service industry at some point in their lives.

Rob Henderson’s service was to his country, and his essay was ultimately about what the United States Air Force did for him.

Of his time as a foster child, he wrote, “I was compelled to develop social skills to receive care from distracted foster parents.” He was finally adopted, but his parents quickly divorced (the adoption came up in arguments before his father cut off ties) and eventually found stability with his mother and her partner, at least until her partner was shot. An insurance settlement led to a home purchase, which ended in foreclosure.

After high school, he enlisted. Eight years later, he’s still deciding where he’ll attend college in the fall. “I’ve accomplished much over the last seven years because the Air Force provides an organized setting that contrasts with the chaos of my upbringing,” he wrote.

Ms. Lythcott-Haims felt herself rooting for him, and she added that his essay was a good reminder that the United States military is a beacon for many young adults, even with the high risks that may come with their service. “This is one way you make a life in America,” she said. “It’s more common than we realize. And he is self-made.”

Twitter: @ronlieber