Learning how to get into college at Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library

English teacher Randy Levin says application essays should be authentic


“Everybody has become more competitive, everyone has to take 12 A.P. courses, they have to save the rainforest during the summer and cure cancer during the winter,” said Randy Levin, a former high school English teacher and college application essay advisor. “It’s created an atmosphere where everyone looks the same on paper… so the [college application] essays become the only tool to distinguish one student from another.”

Levin spoke at the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library on Feb. 26, on the biggest mistakes that students make on their essays when applying to college. How to find the right school and how many should be applied to was the advice he offered the six students and two parents.

“We always want to do educational things,” said Caroline Lynch, the teen librarian, who booked the program. “The kids in high school are really focused on SATs, ACTS, college applications and their essays, so we try to hold programs to fill those needs.”

In his hour-long presentation, Levin covered what in his experience are the 10 biggest mistakes that students regularly make on their essays, punctuating his points with examples he’s collected over his time working with students.

“Authentic and imperfect,” he said. “They don’t want manufactured stuff, they don’t want people trying to appear perfect … It’s not real, it’s not genuine.”

He also advised students to keep their audience, likely a admissions officer who’s read dozens of other essays the same day in mind, and that if the college asks you to write about something specific don’t begin with by rephrasing the question.

Theodore Tourneus, a Hewlett High School junior, said that he’s heard some of the advice before, and believes reinforcement is OK. “It’s good to get a jump on college admissions,” he said. “Also it’s really good to get another perspective other than admissions or guidance counselors.”

Levin recommended having the essays reviewed, but cautioned the students about showing too many people. “The more people you show it to, the more confused you’re going to get because you’re going to get a million different opinions,” he said. “One person — English teacher, guidance counselors, last year’s English teacher, somebody you respect, even a parent. Show it to somebody, one person.”

The program helped Hewlett High freshman Sumeet Chinnappala, get a head start. “My older brother just applied to colleges so I wanted to understand what I could do that would give me some sort of edge,” he said, adding he’s glad that he learned to focus on conveying authenticity rather than just his accomplishments.