Why I’m Here (A Note to Counselors)
A Note to Counselors from Ethan Sawyer, the College Essay Guy
Hi, my name's Ethan. And I want to help you help your students write better essays. Why?
I have a lot to say about college essays. They are my passion and my forte. Weird, right?
Here's my story in three sentences. I studied screenwriting in college and moved out to LA in 2003 to become a screenwriter but when I started working part-time with students on their college essays I started seeing all these connections between movies and their essays and I realized that students were basically writing short movies. So I started teaching students what I'd learned about film structure and they started producing some beautiful essays, some of which (I'd like to think) helped them gain acceptance into great schools, but more importantly, I saw how the writing exercises were helping them dig deep into their own lives, discover a lot about who they were and ultimately were helping them produce works that reflected their most profound, beautiful and powerful selves. In the years that followed I enrolled in and graduated from two counseling programs and began to see more and more how the college essay writing process could and can be an affirming, life altering, even therapeutic process and that, with the right tools, any student who is willing to work hard can produce a personal statement that reflects his or her deepest, most authentic self.
And that's what I'm committed to: helping students reflect their deepest, most authentic selves.
I've found that the personal statement works the same kind of magic on counselors. When counselors are given the right tools, when they listen musically, when they're bringing their full selves to the counseling experience, they have the potential to change not only their students' lives, but their own lives as well. And that's the other thing I'm committed to:
I'm committed to providing counselors with resources that will not only help them become more creative in their approach, more confident when offering feedback, and more efficient when working with large caseloads, but will also help them discover their own voice as a counselor. I want to help them discover their own deepest values, their own deepest story, in short, their answer to the question:
Describe the world you come from and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
How do I do these things? A few ways.
1. I offer students a step-by-step processthat helps them find their college essay topic and structure in about 45 minutes. No joke. Have your student go through the process and the first draft will be measurably better. This resource is free.
2. I also offer students free resourceson everything from How to Write the ‘Why us’ Essay to 5 Ways to Make Your Activities List Awesome.
3. I offer counselors free resources oneverything from How to Encourage Openness During Brainstormingto How to Develop a College List (for Free).
4. I speak at events and travel to schools. Interested? Email me.And from time to time:
5. I offer counselor workshops and webinars. Speaking of which:
This summer, I conducted a live workshop series called Everything You Need to Know to Guide a Student through the College Essay Process. In this six-part series, I taught counselors how to help students write their personal statements using what they intuitively know from the movies they've grown up with. And each week I gave away a PDF with resources that counselors could print, copy and use with as many students as they liked.
Want to know what else I did? I recorded those videos and am making them available on my site for $99. To find out more, click here.
My goal is to make your life and the lives of your students better by making the college essay process more fun, more fulfilling, and ultimately more transformative. Why? Because it gives me immense pleasure to do so.
I ask in return that you use these resources and continue to do your amazing work in the world.
Finally, I want to say thanks.
Thanks for listening to that student for that extra half hour, even when you were supposed to be someplace else. Thanks for staying up to revise that essay even though it was 11pm and the student--not you!--had waited until the last minute. In short, thanks for caring so darn much.
It was worth it.
It still is.
The College Essay Guy
Who am I? That is a simple question, yet it is one without a simple answer. I am many things—and I am one thing. But I am not a thing that is just lying around somewhere, like a pen, or a toaster, or a housewife. That is for sure. I am much more than that. I am a living, breathing thing, a thing that can draw with a pen and toast with a toaster and chat with a housewife, who is sitting on a couch eating toast. And still, I am much more.
I am a man.
And I am a former baby and a future skeleton, and I am a distant future pile of dust. I am also a Gemini, who is on the cusp.
I am “brother” and I am “son” and I am “father” (but just according to one person, who does not have any proof but still won’t seem to let it go). Either way, I am moving very soon and not letting her know about it. I am asking you to keep that between us.
I am trustworthy and loyal, but at the same time I am no Boy Scout. No, I am certainly not. I am quite the opposite, in fact. And by opposite I do not mean Girl Scout. No. I mean Man Scout. And by that I do not mean Scout Leader. In fact, I am not affiliated with the Scouts at all. Let’s just forget about the Scouts and Scouting altogether, O.K.?
I am concepts and thoughts and feelings and outfits. And I am each of these all at once, unless I am in the shower. Then I am not outfits, because that would be uncomfortable.
To some I am known as Chief. And these are usually people who work in Radio Shack or try to sell me shoes. To others I am known as Buddy. These are people who dwell in bars and wonder if I’ve got a problem or what it is that I am “looking at.” And to still others, who are in that same bar, standing just off to the side, I am “Get Him!”
I am he and I am him. I am this and I am that. And I am, from time to time, Roberta, if I am in a chat room.
People have known me by many titles. In high school, I was Student and Key Club Vice-President and Queer Bait. In college, I was Pledge and then Disappointed and then Transfer Student. I am still amazed at how picky certain so-called “brotherly” organizations can be. And I am actually glad that they didn’t choose me for their stupid fraternity.
To some I am fantasy, and to others I am Frank, mostly because I have told them that this is my name—even though it is not even close to my name. I am a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a pita. Why the pita? That counts as another mystery.
I am everything and I am nothing. I am just kidding; I am not everything and nothing. That would be ridiculous. I am just everything.
I am what I eat. And I am this especially when I bite my nails.
I have been called Hey, You! and Get Out of the Way! and Look Out! And then, some time later, Plaintiff.
I am my own worst critic. I am going to give you an example. “That’s not me enough” is the kind of thing I am prone to say about myself. See what I mean? I am sure you do.
I am the silent majority.
I am a loud minority.
I am not talking about Puerto Ricans when I say that, because I am not a racist. I am just clearing that up. In fact, I am pretty sure I have at least one friend from each of the races (Hi, Guillermo).
I am friend. I am foe. I am fo’ sho’. What up, y’all?
I am sorry about that. I was just talking to one of my race friends, a black one. I am white and I am black. And I am both of these when I am dressed as a mime. And then I am sh-h-h.
I am Batman, but only on Halloween. And then I am not invited to many parties. But I am fine with that, because that just makes me an even more accurate Batman (because Batman does not go to parties as Batman but only as Bruce Wayne). I am right about this.
I am someone who likes to go to the park. But I am not the guy with the Labrador retriever and the tennis ball and the tattered book under his arm, who is wearing fleece and is kind of tan. No. I am not that guy. I am sick of that guy and all the women who talk to him.
I am the Walrus, but not the one you’re probably thinking of. I am the Other Walrus, the one who is less the Walrus in the sense of legendary music and more the Walrus in the sense of his tendency to lie around on a beach for too long.
I am bravery. I am courage. I am valor. I am daring. I am holding a thesaurus.
I am the sun. I am the moon. I am the rain, I am the earth. I am these when I am taking mushrooms with Kevin. I am good friends with Kevin. I am not sure what Kevin’s last name is.
I am sometimes referred to as Excuse Me in an annoyed tone of voice, because apparently I am in the way. I am so sorry. I am supposed to be some sort of mind reader, I guess. I am moving out of the way now as slowly as I possibly can. I am doing this and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I am often the one they call You but I am no more You than you. I am me. And I am more Me than you are or can ever be. And one time I was Corey for almost five minutes while I was talking with a stranger, until she realized that I was not her friend Corey.
I am neither here nor there, but there—a little to the left. Yeah. That’s me.
I am waving at you. I am waving right at you now.
I am looking right at you.
I am sensing that you don’t know me. I am starting to feel awkward.
I am getting out of here. ♦