#College Essays and Applications

Get to know our essay coaches! We sat down to interview Lech Harris, one of our College Admissions Specialists!

What were you looking for in a college when you applied?

I grew up in a small town in Iowa; needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of diversity. But my parents had both served in the Peace Corps when they were younger (in the Congo and Nepal, respectively), and it was important to them that our family had opportunities to travel outside the US, whenever possible.

The most formative of those trips, for me, was in my eighth-grade year, when my dad got a Fulbright grant to teach at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. So I spent that school year living in Dar, attending an international school with students from all over the world; I was one of the only Americans in my class. After that year, though I very much enjoyed high school in my hometown, I did still have a longing to be in a more international setting, with people from a variety of different countries.

I ultimately decided to attend Macalester College, in the Twin Cities, because it had a very international student body, and that was very evident to me when I did an overnight stay on campus: even my host student was international. It was the kind of diverse environment I was looking for—that, and it was a quirky liberal arts college in a city that was a just-right distance from home. So it checked all my boxes.

What was your favorite part of college?

I think high school was where I figured out what my values and politics and principles were—where I started fashioning myself into the adult person I wanted to be—but college was where I put those values and that vision of myself into practice.

For example, I knew in high school that activism was important to me, but I didn’t really have many opportunities in my hometown to act on that; in college, I was able to join activist organizations and plan actions with other people who were passionate about the same issues as me.

In high school, I had a group of friends that loved to joke around and riff with each other, and I knew that humor was central to who I was; in college, I successfully auditioned for an improv and sketch group that staged multiple, packed comedy shows every semester. My favorite part of college, in short, was moving from ideas to action: from having a strong sense of myself in my head, to having real-world opportunities to fully develop and explore that self.

What kind of college essays do you love to work on?

Anything where I can get into the specifics!

Your individuality lives in the specifics. Take any meaningful story from your life and summarize it in a general way: guaranteed, there are lots of other people who could tell that same story. But if you dial up the resolution, and tell that story in a way that gives me all of the detail, the particularity, the texture of that experience… that’s a story that no one could tell but you.

I think the students I work with are often surprised by the kinds of specifics that I ask for. They’re thinking, why do the admissions officers need to know that? Why do they need to know what flavor the ice cream was, or how hot it was that day? How does that help me get into college? But the reason I ask is not because they need to know that particular information—it’s because, without those specifics, there’s no authentic, individual person on the page.

Who’s keeping you company while you work?

My greyhound, Dino, follows me around the house throughout the day: if I’m on the couch working, he’s on the cushion next to me; if I’m typing at the dining room table, he’s lying on his bed nearby; if I’m in the kitchen making lunch, he’s sitting behind me expectantly—at a polite five-foot distance—assuming, naturally, that I’m preparing a snack for him. Sometimes, if I’m running a little behind in the morning, he’ll whine loudly to let me know that it’s time for us to move into my home office. Dino was a racer for 6 years before my partner and I adopted him, so he can be forgiven for his love of routine and slight tendency to be a taskmaster.

What’s on your desk right now?

I generally don’t like to use a desk, to be totally honest! At any given time, you can find me in various rooms of the house: working on a sofa, or in an armchair, or on the back patio, while Dino naps in the grass.

But with that said, wherever I’m working, I’ve always got tea in a Santa mug next to me. This Santa mug is my everyday, go-to mug (no matter what time of year it is!), for both practical and sentimental reasons. Practically, it’s the Goldilocks size for me: not so big that the tea is always getting cool and needs to be reheated, and not so small that I’m constantly needing a refill.

Sentimentally, this mug was given to me by a client of mine when I was a social worker in Minneapolis. He was living out of his car at the time, in a Minnesota winter, and was trying to save money from his new job while also fighting for the right to see his kids. Despite all of that, he bought me this mug to thank me for my help. I was incredibly touched by that, and this has been my favorite mug ever since.