Yet, over the years there was an unmistakable pattern: terrible essays from exceptional students. As we worked through the writing process with these "smart" students, we found a common cause for their poor essays. We don’t want to be overly simplistic – but for the sake of brevity, here’s what we observed: these students had been told that they were smart. From a young age, they’d been labeled by parents, teachers, and peers. It was true; they were bright, perceptive, and had high grade point averages. However, those labels got in the way of their learning process. Smart students finish tests early. They get the high scores. They don’t often make mistakes... and since they won't let themselves make mistakes, they miss out on opportunities to stretch their views, have challenging new experiences, and grow.
"When people perform well (academically or otherwise) at early ages and are labeled smart or gifted, they become less likely to challenge themselves. They become less likely to make mistakes, because they stay in their comfortable comfort zone and stop growing."
What researchers tell us now is to stop telling your children they are smart, and instead, tell them that they did great work. Emphasize the process. For example:
When it came to writing, the students labeled as “smart” wanted to maintain their "fixed mindset" and always be labeled as smart. Instead, our process required them to shift to a "growth mindset." They needed to stop thinking of drafting as mistakes. They had to stop expecting that each draft was potentially the final. They had to give themselves permission to make mistakes, or search through topics that might lead to better ideas. Without drafting and mistakes, there was no room for reaching breakthrough ideas.
Some of the best essays we’ve ever seen came from what the person originally thought was a bad idea. We’ve seen phenomenal essays reciting conversations as a used car salesman, or with an aging man sitting in a garage, or about making bread, or the process of making soup.
What do these topics have to do with pontificating about the importance of law, or why medical practice is important, or how a Ph.D. program will help you change the world? Absolutely nothing. However, these little nuggets that were found through lots of “bad” drafts revealed something that was missing in the earlier, boring drafts. They were authentic. When we read those drafts, we got to meet the writer. Really, that’s all we wanted to do in the first place.
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For over a decade Essay Brain tutors developed a method of tutoring college and graduate school applicants through the process of writing personal essays - and the results have been outstanding. Applicants report that their essays open doors, win scholarships, and are instrumental in establishing positive relationships with faculty members. With Essay Brain tutor's guidance, applicants can turn admissions critics into advocates, and help ensure the admissions committee has the opportunity to understand how an applicant will impact their incoming class.