"And as far as the writing itself, again, not everyone has a natural, flowing, literary style. We understand this. But on the other hand, with seventeen years to write your essays, you've certainly had enough time to make sure you've made proper use of grammar, and that every single word is spelled correctly. Not because mistakes will tell us you're unintelligent. I freely admit that most of us in the adult world rely heavily on our computer spell-check programs! But a spelling or grammatical mistake in your application means that you haven't cared enough to make sure there aren't any mistakes. And that does mean something to us."

"You hear that?" Roden said. "Now you know why I'm always on your case about this."

"It isn't a timed exam, after all," Portia said. "You know, you might make an error in the middle of an SAT essay. It's not a disaster. Anyone can butcher the English language when the clock is ticking. But with your essays, you have time, so take the time to go over them. You might catch something, and be really glad you did."

"Any other dumb, avoidable mistakes?" Roden said. "Pay attention, everybody."

"Okay." She smiled. "A few. Please don't write us a long, rapturous essay about how much you want to attend Yale. You'd be surprised," she said when they laughed. "It happens quite a lot. The cut-and-paste function on your computer makes it easy to declare undying love for any number of colleges simultaneously. Unfortunately, it also makes it easy to slip up. I've read essays telling me why the applicant feels he is perfect for Stanford, Duke, Harvard, USC, you name it. You know, we get that you're applying to more than one college. We understand the kind of pressure you're under. But again, just take the time to make sure you're ready to seal that envelope. Or, in the case of the common application, or the online Princeton application, before you hit Send. Okay?"

They nodded. Some of them were scribbling notes.

"Another thing. Please don't mount a campaign. There's a reason we ask for two recommendations from teachers, plus an optional recommendation from someone who might shed light on another aspect of who you are. There's very little we can learn from four of your teachers that we couldn't have learned from two, and just multiply those extra letters by eighteen thousand and you can understand why we're going to get a bit annoyed if you ask everyone you've ever known to send along a testimonial. And think carefully about whom you want writing for you, and make sure they know you well enough to speak knowledgeably about who you are. And please, don't bombard us with extras. A recording of your instrumental work or some slides of your art, that's great. And as you probably know, we send these submissions to our departments for evaluation, so you don't have to worry about a tone-deaf person like me passing judgment on the quality of your Chopin. If you've written fiction or play the bassoon, by all means send it along. But hold off on the cookies. I won't deny that we eat them," she said, smiling. "But they don't help our waistlines and they won't help your applications."