Yes, Creative Writing is a Powerful Theme

AL came to us in the 8th grade to help strategize on a roadmap that would set her on the path to the Ivy Leagues. An Asian-American, she grew up in an affluent neighborhood and went to a good high school surrounded by academically strong STEM students. A. L. was very shy from the outset and we were initially curious about her thoughts.


AL parents came with lots of questions about AMC tutoring and STEM-related activities. We advised them that starting AMC in the 8th grade was a little late and discussed the many different paths to the Ivy leagues, including art, social science and social justice. However, the parents, one a professor and the other a tech executive, had only seen tech students gain admissions to the top colleges at their high school and were adamant about AL working on a STEM theme.


IvyZen’s initial consulting process is quite extenisve; parents’ limited exposure to the admissions world is one of the reasons we take our time. We talk with parents at length and then meet with the student 1on1 to figure out the best theme. Here, the best theme would be one that matched the student’s interest and ability. Force-fitting a theme on an uninterested student will lead to problems down the road. Worse, if the student doesn’t have the capacity to follow along, e.g. get high AMC scores, then lots of time, money and energy will be wasted on a failed effort.


After getting clear and thorough input from the parents, we met w/ AL 1on1, first with a Mentor and then with a Director. What we found was surprising and delightful. AL was a straight A student and it was clear that she had a lot of ambition, but she had a hard time discussing her real interests. So we asked her what she did after school. It turned out she spent a great deal on creative writing. We asked her if she had ever sent her work anywhere and she said that she had sent some pieces to Scholastic and won a Silver Key.


It turns out AL was a poet in the making and willing to work hard to become a writer. We talked to her about the amazing programs and contests in writing and watched her eyes light up and mind open to us. After an exhilarating discussion about how spending an hour a day writing would actually help her get into a good college, i.e. she could be rewarded extrinsically with work she already loved to do, she suddenly saddened at the thought of how her parents would never allow her to take this path. We promised we do our best.


It seemed like Dad was the big obstacle so we outlined the entire roadmap, one we had traveled numerous times on the way to colleges like Harvard, Stanford and Princeton. First, we showed Dad how large the Harvard creative writing department was with over 50 faculty members, 8 poets alone and numerous professors who were also award-winning novelists. Then we showed him how relatively unpopular creative writing was as a major and pointed out that admissions officers are always looking for accomplished creative writing students.


Many students do express interest in creative writing. They write their essays how they would like to one day become a writer. However, the top colleges are looking for students who are well on their way to becoming a professional writer. The difference is huge and as we explained the arduous path, Dad began to understand why top colleges would love a student like AL.


For the full discussion on why creative writing is so compelling, go here. We highlighted the most important parts for Dad:


> 90% of our students who become either a YoungArts Finalist or Winner are accepted to top colleges. 


> The same for scholastic winners, especially American Voices recipients. 


> The way to win those awards is to work hard and gain admissions to the top summer programs such The Adroit Mentorship, Iowa and Kenyon, where the nation’s best writers help students create an elite level writing portfolio.


> They way our students get into those summer programs is weekly tutoring, where students are required to write one hour a week and, on a vigorous and regular schedule, submit their work to literary magazines.


Literary writing is difficult to master and takes years of hard work. The biggest problem is finding good guides. Most English teachers are not writers themselves and thus have a hard time even identifying good literary work to read. Most English curricula focus on traditional literature, which only demonstrates a small part of the literary world. So young students have a hard time even getting exposed to the right kind of work. They need good guides to show them the literary world.


Continuous reading and writing practice, tutoring, getting feedback from literary magazines and contests is quite difficult, especially for teenagers. Explaining this process, Dad started to see the challenges and then consequent advantages. After this lengthy discussion, Dad was almost convinced. Then AL’s determined plea pushed him over as he sensed her resolve.


Working with AL was a pleasure for all of us. Zoom calls, messaging over Basecamp, our project management platform, getting comments on her pieces, submitting work together to lit mags and contests, dealing with the rejections and rejoicing together in her successes is why we all love our work at IvyZen. After 4 months of rejections, AL finally got a small collection of poems published in a lit mag. Expanding on that, we helped her develop a strong body of work that got her accepted to Kenyon. That same body won her multiple awards at Scholastic. 


At Kenyon, AL really took off, spread her wings and develop a thick body of work. In the following year, AL got over 20 pieces published, won more Scholastic Awards and then gained admissions to the prestigious Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. All of her work snowballing, she became an Adroit mentee and then won the creme dela creme of the writing world, YoungArts. Her common app essay focused on her poetry reading at YoungArts and her difficult journey there. 


She applied early to Harvard and was exhilerated when her acceptance popped up on her screen. She immediately sent us the acceptance letter to share her joy with us. Dad was very happy too.