2 Thought-Provoking Outliers

If any doubt remains about the permanent impact finding one’s self-defining narrative can have on the students I work with, ponder these two instances or continue on Preliminary Conclusions


There is growing research in the field of narrative psychology indicating that the process of arriving at one’s unique story may have an ongoing impact on one's future attainments.

Click to see this essay writer's original college essay!

Then read the writer's response to these 4 questions:

  1. What have you been doing in the years immediately after you wrote this UU essay?
  2. What are you doing now?
  3. What do you yet plan to accomplish?
  4. What, if any, lasting impact do you feel the UU process has had on you?

If you read ‘On Getting Drunk’ you can readily see it’s an admittedly edgy, soul-searching and brilliantly reasoned piece of writing. In fact, out of prudence, the student’s parents ultimately persuaded him not to submit it with his college applications due to its controversial topic. So did all that amazing work go to waste? I think the response below, submitted eight years after all the dust had settled, says it all.

Since College

Working with you was absolutely useful. I think because of my upbringing and natural shyness, I had been unsure of how much of myself was appropriate to reveal to others, especially in my own family. The essay I wrote was an honest depiction of the emotions I was feeling at the time, about a specific experience that tapped into some universal aspects of growing up. Looking back, that essay was part of what has led me to express myself in writing more freely to this day, and continue to grow and explore as a person.

College was a very good experience for me. I went to ____, where I studied Communication, and continued exploring interests like screenwriting and comedy performing. I also became a football fan for the first time. It was definitely the right place for me, and I’m still living in Los Angeles seven years after coming here for college.

@ Present

Right now, I’m a screenwriter and producer for independent features. I started writing screenplays during my freshman year, and got the opportunity to write a script for a project my dad had been interested in developing following his retirement, which has since become an independent feature with a strong cast and crew. Right now I’m working on getting the editing and music finished so that it will be ready for a potential theatrical release, should we go that way. Hopefully it will be the first of many projects I work on. I have a number of smaller projects – music production, podcasting, comedic essay writing, improvisational comedy and standup performing – which started as minor interests years ago that I have continued to maintain and work on over time.

Looking Ahead

This may be partially answered above; along with screenwriting, I’m hoping to find ways to use my additional talents and interests to build a personal brand and a self-sustaining creative career. I will continue to seek out what moves me creatively and see where those interests take me.

Ongoing Impact of UU Process

I hadn’t thought about it before in this context, but the essay I did with you ended up being a springboard to the kind of writing I later ended up doing on my website, autobiographical essays with some boldness and honesty. I’m glad you consider it a success even if I couldn’t use the essay itself; outside of that particular context, I feel like it was a great success as well.

I remember my parents being upset about the essay I wrote at the time, but it was a necessary act of self-definition for me, and has certainly had a ripple effect in my life. I wonder, also, what would have happened had I used that essay rather than the one I ended up with. Too many college students writing essays – or people in general, actually – portray themselves falsely in a way they believe will appeal to others, and as a result come across as uninteresting and generic. I believe it’s valuable to be myself, warts and all, and I don’t think I would have made that leap without the push you provided me.

UU's Methodology


This writer did not take part in the longitudinal study because he wrote his essay in 2010, outside its 1999-2007 parameters.

I’ve included it here because this essay, like no other, places in perspective the superficiality of the objectives of most applicants – merely getting into college.

Even given the brutally competitive climate of that year’s college admissions sweepstakes, “merely getting into college” was not a problem for this particular applicant.

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (full 4-year scholarship)
Oberlin (college and conservatory–scholarship to each)
Tulane (Founders scholar-20K/yr academic scholarship)
University of Rochester (10K scholarship for academic excellence and artistic talent)
University of Richmond

Who could help but be ecstatic with results such as these?

“Unfortunately,” his mother reported when I emailed to learn how he had done, “we just found out this week that D. has had a recurrence of his leukemia. He spent this week in the hospital having surgery to put in a chemo line and begin chemotherapy, and just got home last night. Because it’s a relapse, the treatment will be even longer and more difficult than it was last time. He is in good spirits, though, and determined to do whatever he has to do to get better. He will have to defer college to 2011 to give him a chance to get through the worst part of the chemo. He’ll still be undergoing chemo when he starts college, so the doctors want him to plan to attend somewhere relatively close. Fortunately he got accepted to Columbia and he will ask to defer that admission.”

The topic of D’s essay had been his original battle with his leukemia.

No doubt many educational consultants, English teachers, and parents would have encouraged him to write about this subject – to a degree, but I doubt that very many would have known how to guide D., or any other rising senior, into the invisible zone of writing to see the intellectual, emotional, musical, and spiritual meaning of the far greater Harmony he found within himself. There is no question that his fresh confrontation with and re-treatment of his leukemia was made more bearable by the inner strength he had already accessed through the intensive process he devoted to writing his college essay. Hopefully the note I sent to D’s mother, saying exactly that, brought some peace of mind to the family.

I am happy to report that two years later, D. is ‘really doing great!’ He told me so himself this spring when I heard him play an amazing set of his own compositions with his jazz trio in a club near Columbia, with many more to come.

UU's Methodology
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