From Dishwashing to MIT
A private school in Idaho hired me to train their guidance counselor on essay coaching. As a test case, I was to coach their top student, who was a straight A student with nearly perfect standardized test scores, a nationally ranked debater, one of three student body presidents, a drama king, and all around nice guy. His top choice was MIT. The only issue was that in the schools’ 24-year history, they had never gotten a single student into an Ivy League (plus) school.
This student’s first attempt at his main personal statement went something like this: he was one of three student body presidents, but didn’t have the confidence to believe he was a true leader until a teacher encouraged him.
Upon reading the first draft, I knew he needed a more unique topic. So, we brainstormed for perhaps an hour and during that session, he casually mentioned that he had worked as a dishwasher for Cracker Barrel, an inexpensive, chain restaurant.
I immediately knew that the dishwashing story was the right topic because most students applying to Ivy League - like schools would come from wealthy backgrounds and tended towards activities like volunteer trips abroad or university research internships.
This essay was more unique because rather than focusing on his achievements, he could cast himself as a hard working minimum wage employee and talk about the lessons he learned in that atmosphere.
He eventually wrote one of the most hilarious essays I’ve read in a long time, concluding with a tidbit from his boss: the Tibetan ladies that he worked with said he was one of the “hardest working white boys” they’d ever encountered.
He got into MIT and wrote me this email a year later: “I suppose this is a good time to thank you again for your input into my college applications. After meeting my classmates and talking with admissions staff, I've realized that the content of those essays is probably what made my application fit MIT so well.”