Finding Your Authentic Voice (With Some Help From Your Fan Club)

Avery Educational Resources

Today's post comes courtesy
Erin Avery at Avery Educational Resources

Today's blog post is from Erin Avery, an independent educational consultant based in Fair Haven, New Jersey, who specializes in the college and boarding school search and application process. A graduate of Oxford and Yale, Avery is a Certified Educational Planner and creator of CollegeApp, available on the App Store. You can learn more about her and her services at

Ed. Consultant Erin Avery: “So, where geographically are you considering attending college?”
Son: “I don’t know…I was thinking of maybe an island.”
Father: “Yeah, Long Island.”

Yesterday, I sat beside a father and son duo, not unlike many cradled in the inner sanctum of my office’s worn leather armchairs. Often, as depicted above, parent and child come with divergent perspectives: rightfully so based on their respective worldviews and life experiences.

This is why I always welcome parents, guardians or other loving stakeholders to participate in the all-important Essay Brainstorming Session. The results are phenomenal. The invited “guests” act as time capsules, jogging the student’s memory of past notable examples of characteristics demonstrated, or character embodied. They may recall that precise anecdote that illustrates the quintessence of the student. Ultimately, if it is conducted properly, the essay brainstorming session is akin to a love-fest wherein the student hears and has mirrored back to him or her a chorus of voices affirming his or her unique gifts to the world.

In my role as an educational consultant, I have to admit, I am always scanning my conversations with you, my client, for “essay-worthy” content. I simply can’t help it. I have met myriad teens in my near decade of private practice. By employing my strength-based methodology, I passionately echo back to each student how incredible I find him or her. High school students never cease to astound me! While peers and society attempt to smother teens with the gag order of conformity, I bathe you in affirmation for your daily courage to choose to be yourself.

I have seen my share of Eagle Scouts, Congressional Medalists, National Merit Finalists, Point and Figure Charting experts, even oyster gardeners, and the accolades continue. Yet be mindful that the most profound essay topics need not be the most cataclysmic. At a symposium last spring, the New Jersey reader from GW shared, as she welled up with tears, that her favorite essay amid her applicant pool was written by a student portraying the profound impact on him of his parents’ 25-year marriage. (Her second favorite essay topic was on the sneaker-odor of the applicant’s car.) Your story can (and often must) be drawn from the quotidian, everyday seventeen year-old lived experience. Do not grant one instant to counterproductive feelings of inadequacy if you have not yet discovered a cure for cancer (but get on that, would you?). Rather, own who you are and where you are. If you are presently staring at a blank screen, go grab a decaf frappuccino with someone who loves you and if you are too embarrassed to ask them blatantly to sing your praises, ask him or her what s/he would say at your funeral (morbid, yes, but effective!). Still stumped? Google and read “The Desiderata”. Works like a charm.

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