Keith Todd是号称“南部的哈佛”的莱斯大学(Rice University) 的招生部主任。这是他几年前在一份教育杂志上发表的文章。我觉得言之有物，对学生和家长都有参考价值，所以翻成中文给大家。希望能够有所帮助。
作为一个当过英文老师的人，我很理解任何一个人面对空白纸页所产生的焦虑，特别是当要写的与自己有关，而如果写的是大学申请作文就更是如此。我想分享有关大学申请作文（有时也被称为“个人声明”Personal Statement）的一些想法。我的第一个建议是你应该把升学作文当作潜在的强势位置 (place of power)。大学申请的其他部分都是相当间接的或统计类的：比如考试分数，学校成绩，推荐信。但是写作部分是由你来决定把自己的哪一方面展示给招生委员会。在所有申请材料中，这一部分你有完全的控制。
我遇到的另一个升学作文的神话是：你必须有一个很"大"的故事，最好是情感跌荡起伏的故事。到目前为止的职业生涯中我已经阅读了超过两万份申请作文，我的感觉是，大多数申请人有着相当非戏剧性生活 - 为什么不呢？他们都非常年轻。大多数受过良好到优秀的教育。大多数有着幸福的童年和少年。只有少数拥有不同寻常的人生经历，通常由于自己所不能控制的好运气或坏运气。的确，我也读过一些让我感动作文，有关家人去世，父母离异，克服坎坷的童年或战胜一种可怕的疾病。但是，即使是感人的作文也必需是一个“有效力”(effective) 的作文，能传达一些有关作者的智力能力以及是否为进入我的学校做好了准备的信息。
我读过的最好的升学作文是那些有一个明确而独特的声音，帮助我更清楚地看到和理解这个学生的文章。即使是最平淡最普通的生活也是可以被仔细观察的。有一篇作文多年来一直常让我想起。它的作者是一个住在同一个地方，去了个好学校，似乎有着幸福生活的学生 - 没有什么戏剧性。她写到自己和母亲有一个习惯：每天早上，就她们两个人一起吃早餐。通过这个日常事件她了解到自己的母亲的那些她从未想到过的事情，进而使她们的关系得以成长和深化。正如我所说，重要的并不在于故事的本身，而在于你如何使你的生活和你的观察在我们这些读者面前变的鲜活起来。
最后一点建议：不仅仅是修改，而是给自己足够的时间来修改。把你的文章放到边上一两天时间，然后再重新读它，可能会有很大的区别。大学录取官有一种可以感受到一篇文章是否是很匆忙的，堆砌到一起，没有认真考虑的第六感觉。邀请朋友，父母或老师读你的文章并给你反馈。你的作文应该是自己的声音，不是你父母的声音，更不是你认为招生委员会所希望看到的，想象中的完美学生的声音。留足够的时间反复阅读自己的写作，试验不同的写法，而不因最后期限将至感到恐慌。忠实于自己所有不完美的，独特的方面：苦思冥想，政治活跃，多愁善感，理想主义，摇摆不定，事事好奇。如果你是一个妙趣横生的作者，不妨运用一点小幽默。但是如果你不知道你写出来的是否好笑 -- 最好不要拿升学作文当试验品。祝你好运！
Some thoughts on the Application Essay
We admissions people try to turn two-dimensional applications into three-dimensional portraits of students, hoping to gain insight into a student through his or her writing. Before that, though, students must try to turn their three-dimensional selves into meaningful writing on the page or screen – a more daunting task than ours.
Having taught English, I’m familiar with the anxiety the blank page causes in any writer, especially writing about oneself, and even more especially for a college application. I want to share a few thoughts about the college application essay (or “personal statement,” as you’ll often see it called). My first recommendation is that you think of the written application as a potential place of power. Everything else in the application is rather indirect or statistical: a test score, a letter grade, a recommendation letter. But in the written portions, you get to determine exactly what you want the admission committee to know about you. It is the one place in the application process where you are most clearly in charge.
Many students get nervous because they feel writing, particular creative writing, is not their strongest suit. I can say emphatically that the admission essay is not a literary contest. I have read many lyrical, poetic essays that did not tell me anything of substance about the student, so they did not advance the student’s case for admission. On the other hand, many of the engineers I have helped admit are not the next Toni Morrison or John Updike. They are simply smart young people who write clearly, readably, and in an organized, short format, about their beliefs, values, ambitions, or life experiences.
Another myth I’ve encountered is that you have to have a big story, and preferably an emotionally fraught one. Having read upward of 20,000 applications so far in my career, my sense is that most of our applicants have had fairly undramatic lives – and why not? They are all quite young. Most have had good to excellent educations. Most have had happy upbringings. And only a small number have had highly unusual life experiences, usually due to good or bad luck, not of their own doing. Yes, I have read essays that moved me, about a death in the family, the divorce of parents, overcoming a rough childhood or a terrible disease. But even a moving essay needs to be an effective essay, one that communicates something about its author’s intellectual abilities and readiness to attend my college.
Some of the best essays I’ve read were those that simply had a clear, individual voice, that helped me see and understand the student more clearly. Even the least exciting, most average life can be carefully and well observed. One essay that has stuck with me for years was written by a student who had lived in one place, attended a good school, and seemed to have a happy family life – no drama. But she wrote about the habit she and her mother developed of having breakfast together, just the two of them, every morning, how this daily encounter helped her learn things about her mother she’d never imagined, and how their relationship grew and deepened as a result. As I said, the impact is not in the story itself, but in how you make your life and your observations come alive for us as readers.
One last bit of advice: don’t just revise, but give yourself time to revise. Just setting your writing aside for a day or two, then approaching it afresh, can make a big difference. Admission officers have a sixth sense for writing that feels rushed, thrown together, not carefully considered. Have a friend, parent, or teacher read over your work and give you feedback. Make sure your writing is in your own voice, not your parent’s voice, and certainly not the voice of that imaginary Perfect Student you think the admission committee wants to see. Give yourself time to see your own writing, to test out approaches, to not feel panicky under deadline. Be yourself in all your unperfected, unique aspects: be ruminative, politically engaged, pensive, idealistic, undecided, curious. If you’re an amusing writer, don’t be afraid to use a little humor. But if you’re not sure if you’re funny in print – please don’t start with the college essay. Good luck!