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Finding Focus Through Finding Purpose

Updated: Mar 21

Preparing students for college and beyond:

My years as a college professor helped me to recognize the gaps in secondary schooling. Having graded thousands of papers and exams I know where students need support. Remarkably, many of them get to college without truly effective organizational and study skills. They lack basic tools in managing the workload, which then leads to overwhelm, contributing to the high levels of mental health distress on campuses. After working with countless students individually, and seeing the same problems repeatedly, I began devoting class time to providing basic instruction in a range of skills, such as: how to prepare for different types of examinations; how to read actively and critically; how to annotate strategically to prepare for class discussion; how make a clear thesis statement, and then develop and support that argument with evidence from source material.


Ultimately, of course, these are specific skills that can be taught. However, there are other gaps between what schools teach and what students need to absorb that are less concrete. Claims are sometimes made that the real purpose of higher education is to ‘teach students how to think’. While it is, of course, essential that we teach the tools of critical thinking, we must also help students to understand why that has value,  for them and for the world. To cultivate them as learners we must foster their own investment in their learning trajectory. This is not a simple matter of teaching basic skills. Instead, it gets to the heart of helping them connect with their own academic agency, drive, purpose, and motivation.

The college application process: 

As a professor, I witnessed first-hand the ongoing fallout from the stressful and competitive college application process. So much attention is placed on getting into college, and not enough on why it matters. The goal is simply assumed to be valuable, and it’s easy for the discussion of purpose to get eclipsed, or postponed, in the face of test prep and looming deadlines. As a result,  many students arrive on campus already intellectually and emotionally exhausted, unclear on why they are there.

The personal and supplemental essay writing process is the perfect opportunity for students to engage in deep introspection about their own inner motivation for pursuing higher learning, and how they want to use their education. Sadly, it seems that few secondary schools invite students to truly ponder their inner ‘why’, a fundamental weakness in the admissions counseling process. When young people have a clear WHY they can tackle hard things, from getting into college to thriving upon arrival, and then going on to pursue larger dreams. It is for this reason that I now offer assistance with these essays, as they play such a crucial role in the admissions process and can make a huge difference in the trajectory of a life.

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