Luciana Varkevisser worked hard on her college essay ahead of the early-admission deadline in November.
As she was going through the process of conceptualizing, writing and revising her work, Luciana reached out to her designated college writing specialist at St. Margaret’s, Upper School English teacher Blake Reemtsma, for a fresh set of eyes to review what she had completed.
College-essay writing is often personal narrative and heavily reliant on the student’s unique voice, yet having a writing expert at St. Margaret’s available to discuss the intricacies of the essay has been a plus for students like Luciana.
“Mr. Blake always made sure that the work highlighted my writing voice, and he never tried to throw out my ideas or rewrite the essay for me,” Luciana said. “He helped bring out the best in what was already written.”
It’s exactly what St. Margaret’s school leaders had in mind. Last spring, the College Counseling Office expanded and enhanced its programming
, starting with students in the Class of 2023 as they were finishing their junior year. The purpose was to bring more educational opportunities to students during the school day around the college-admissions process awaiting them as seniors.
As part of that expansion, two longtime Upper School English teachers joined the St. Margaret’s college-counseling curriculum in an official capacity.
Mr. Reemtsma and Upper School English teacher Dallas Clemmons have lent their expertise as college writing specialists, where they provide Upper School seniors with expert help in fine-tuning their essays. It gives students an extra set of eyes to review their work, in addition to the College Counseling team—Director of College Counseling Elise Rodriguez, Senior Associate Director Amy Warren and Associate Director Erica Huerta.
“The essay is an important part of many college applications, as students are tasked with crafting their voice, their experiences and their perspectives in a clear and concise way,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “It made sense to leverage our incredible experts here at St. Margaret’s to provide mentorship in this process, and the feedback we’ve received so far has been extremely positive.”
This fall, Mr. Reemtsma and Mr. Clemmons each took half the students in the Class of 2023 and encouraged in-person meetings ahead of the November 1 early-admission deadline. Students often set up meetings before school, after school, during lunch or any free time in between.
The meetings last anywhere from a half hour to an hour, as students fine-tune their common application essays, and in some cases, also work on specialized supplemental essays for a specific school.
“We work with students at any stage in their process,” Mr. Reemtsma said.
Mr. Reemtsma and Mr. Clemmons’ involvement started last spring when the College Counseling Office arranged two full-day workshops
with the Class of 2023 at the end of their junior year. The two English teachers led a writing session during those workshops introducing students to the art of the college essay and sharing various writing skills in the narrative non-fiction form.
In subsequent class meetings, Mr. Reemtsma and Mr. Clemmons guided students through exploratory writing exercises, and encouraged them to keep an observation notebook that could come in handy when college essay writing started.
When the Class of 2023’s senior year began, students had a better idea of the direction their college application essay could go. As they began to craft them, Mr. Reemtsma and Mr. Clemmons were available to help students understand their personal and authentic voice, as well as offer feedback on grammar and structure.
“One part that’s neat for me, personally, is that I get to see the full range of writing from our seniors—especially what they’re able to do with personal narrative, which is often quite impressive,” Mr. Reemtsma said.
Senior Maddie Bendzick worked with Mr. Clemmons ahead of the November 1 early-application deadline, which she said provided a boost as she fine-tuned her drafts.
“Mr. Clemmons will take time out of his day to meet with me during his free blocks or tutorial to read over my supplementals and common application essay so that I feel confident in the work I am submitting,” Maddie said. “He also provides helpful tips and tricks on how to move forward with my own edits.”
Senior Nadia Momtaz met with Mr. Reemtsma while she worked to perfect her college essay. The two bounced ideas back and forth as Nadia fine-tuned her work to both express her authentic voice and also fit within the guidelines of the application.
“I appreciated that he emphasized that all his suggestions were optional, and the essay was ultimately my own work that I should alter how I best saw fit” Nadia said. “Mr. Blake has been a tremendous help in my college writing process.”