DESCRIPTION OF SERVICES

Writing

I firmly believe that writing is a skill that can be effectively taught. Most students who think that they have trouble with writing may simply have trouble organizing their thoughts. I always tell a parent that—if I can only meet with a student once—I would rather work with a student to develop a strong outline than try to untangle a disorganized draft. Often a student is having trouble with writing because he or she simply does not understand the material. Writing is hard work, but it is a critical, teachable skill. I have had countless former students email me from college to tell me that I taught them to write. 

Academic Support

When I am working with clients on history and English my job is to make the subject matter interesting and relevant—unless I am working on grammar and vocabulary, in which case, we just need to learn it! There is nothing I love more than talking with a student about Reconstruction or explaining a passage from Shakespeare and seeing eyes light up when they finally grasp what had been so elusive in class. My Yale thesis, "History in Black and White" examined the representation of African Americans in United States history textbooks and the disconnect between historiography and classroom history, so I am extremely interested in how we tell our national story. 

I am also able to help students with basic French or Spanish grammar and vocabulary. I started studying French at age 11, spent many summers with an exchange student in Nice, and received the top score on two AP tests. I took intensive Spanish classes throughout college and spent a summer in Guatemala. My focus with language support is mostly on study skills. 

Research Papers

I have extensive experience working on long-term research papers (including guiding over 300 students through the infamous Newton North Junior Thesis and helping dozens with the semester-long research paper at Beaver Country Day School). I break the project down into manageable parts so that the student is never overwhelmed. Picking the right topic  and researching it effectively are key elements of a successful research paper strategy. Once the outline is complete, the most challenging parts of the project are over. Contrary to what most students believe, writing is not the stumbling block—gathering and organizing information is actually what gives students the most trouble. 

College Essay Writing

Almost every college, whether it takes the Common Application or not, asks for a personal statement. My approach is to help the student tell their story. In the end, the admissions officers just want to know the applicant. Students tend towards broad, generalized, or philosophical topics. However, the essays that work most effectively bring out something specific, unique, compelling, memorable and above all, personal. An MIT admssions officer says: 

People often ask me, "How do I stand out in an essay?" or something to that effect. As MIT admissions officers, our primary goal in reading these essays is to get to know you, the applicant. It's not to be wowed, or feel like we need to read the most unique piece of writing we've ever seen. Over my ten years of working in admissions, I've probably read over 100,000 essays; after a certain point, there's just no such thing as a truly *unique* essay. So worry less about coming up with something we've never read before (because we most likely have anyways), and focus more on making sure your essays authentically convey who you are (or some aspect of who you are). If I, the reader, am able to learn something new about you, then you've written a great response and the essay has served its purpose.

Parents can often share observations and details that their child might overlook, so I offer an optional parent session (1/2 hour or 1 hour), via phone, video chat, or in-person, and I always welcome emails. Transcripts, resumes, and “brag” sheets are helpful when available.

My goal in the first session with the applicant is to get to know them by asking questions. Some students worry that they need to arrive with drafts and ideas but I prefer to start with a blank slate. I want to draw out what is special and unique about them as an individual. During our conversations, a specific memory or event emerges that becomes the vehicle to a deeper story. The common application does offer essay prompts, but all of them are relatively open-ended.

Usually, students do most of the writing during our session. This assures that the writing gets done, and allows us to edit in real time.

The “Activities” section of the Common Application is critical and requires some finesse. There are ten slots with limited characters in which the student can tell the admissions office everything they do outside of classes. This represents a constraint as well as an opportunity. I work with the student to make “Play chess after school” into “Destroy fellow chess players in long and heated games when not being defeated by geniuses who can checkmate in three turns” all in under 150 characters. Every written section of the application allows the student to show their personality. I like the suggestions of this website.

Most colleges require additional “supplemental” essays. It is critical for students to be strategic and to use the written portions of the application to let the college know as much as they can about the student. Test scores and grades only tell part of the story.    

The college admissions process has become quite grueling and stressful; I know it wasn't this hard when I was in high school! In my experience, the students who complete a solid draft of their personal statements over the summer feel much more confident entering their senior year. Therefore, it makes sense to start early, even if you have not made a final decision about where to apply. During the fall of senior year, in addition to working hard to keep their grades up, students are wading through college application forms, scrambling for recommendation letters, and rushing to complete various and sundry supplements. Most do not have the time, mental energy and focus required to craft their personal statement which is increasingly becoming the critical element in the admissions process. Therefore, more and more students are proactively opting to get a head start by completing this work during the summer months. 

Resumes and Cover Letters

Creating a resume requires the same skills as writing a college essay, just in a different medium. The goal is to distill the essence of the person onto a page. We want to do more than just list accomplishments; using targeting words, we aim to capture what makes the client unique. I don’t consider myself an expert at formatting. My job is to help you sort through your experiences and target the job. A cover letter should complement the resume, highlighting and accenting the elements that are most important for the job being sought. I have had tremendous success helping young people and adults craft resumes and cover letters. I wish I could see as clearly when I work on my own!

Organization

Some students need help primarily with organization. I start by making sure the student has an effective method for writing down assignments. The idealist in me believes that everything needs to have a place, but the realist understands that students are not always capable of taking the time to find that place. I have started many a session by helping students to write down assignments and to organize their backpacks. This seemingly basic activity helps many students establish a foundation and build confidence. 

Test Preparation

I have guided scores of students through preparation for the Advanced Placement test in U.S. History as well as the SAT II test. These tests require a firm grasp of historical content, but they also call for a specific kind of essay writing and strategic approach. I also have a great deal of experience with the essay portion of the SAT. The fact that the essay is soon to become optional provides those who can write an extra opportunity to shine.

Abigail.Hillman@gmail.com © Abigail Hillman 2017