The Power of Story
By Jeannette Webb
One of my favorite things to do in the college application process is to help the designated writer in the family compose the homeschool counselor’s letter. Few people are prepared for the depth of feeling this act of love elicits because it calls on us to go back through the years and remember.
Poised over the keyboard, my mind saw vivid moving pictures of my child growing up. I recalled the mistakes, theirs and mine. I felt the glow of triumph, theirs and mine. I watched helpless little bundles become people. I saw the process all over again of them slowly gaining strength and skill and confidence and one day moving away from me into an independent personhood.
With this tangle of thoughts, and prayers, and memories, I spent weeks crafting an objective letter that would introduce my child and student to colleges all over the country. I did my best to capture the personality, the sparkle, the uniqueness, and the challenges of each of my children. My words not only needed to produce a picture for the mind’s eye of the reader, but give them an inside glimpse of the soul. I tried to impart, through this imperfect medium, my delight in being their parent and the fun we have had together. My job was to create a vivid picture, one that would help college admissions officers understand the heart of my child.
The counselor letter (along with test scores, essays, school documents, and other recommendations) did exactly what I wanted it to do. Both my kids were heavily recruited from the world’s best schools. I thought that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t.
Five years after the counselor letter had been written for my daughter, I came to truly understand the power of the story I shared. Last year for Christmas, my gift to the young man newly courting my daughter was a collection of photographs of her growing up as well some of her essays and my counselor letter. I thought it would help him understand her background given that she is from an isolated farm and he calls the largest city in the U.S. home.
A year later, that man is now her fiancé and last week he shared with me the tipping point of their relationship. He looked over my gift on the plane ride home a few days later and he said that the counselor letter was the final proof for him that Natalie was the girl he wanted to marry. He got off the plane waving it at his father and said, “Read this. You’ll see why I have to marry this girl!”
Now, I need to be clear that the counselor letter wasn’t the reason he proposed. It was just a confirmation that the girl he’d fallen in love with was the real deal. She wasn’t an illusion that would change after marriage. It confirmed that the joy he saw in her was a choice made daily throughout a lifetime filled with challenges, not a temporary thing that reflected a fleeting happiness. It showed him her tenacity as well as her resourcefulness. Her character became even clearer through my words.
Stories are some of the most powerful things we have at our disposal. Done well, they teach lessons, open doors, and even change lives. As you put together the many documents you will need to provide to colleges, I encourage you to tell the story well. Who knows where it will lead!
Look Who’s Talking!
Although my daughter still has more schools to apply to, she has accomplished a huge thing by getting this first part done. We are soooo thankful for you. You have been such a wise guide. You have been available when we need you, even when we’re pushing deadlines. I can’t imagine having done this without you! You’ve been so helpful in the process in every way.
You certainly were listening to God when you decided to do what you are doing. You’re doing it well and you’re helping a lot of people. Thank you. ~Kristina, KS
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