By Kristina Houck
It’s the middle of college application season. High school students are busy taking standardized tests, writing essays and applying for financial aid.
But former college application guru Lacy Crawford isn’t working with students this year.
After 15 years, the Rancho Santa Fe resident retired from helping students perfect their essays, an experience she chronicled in her newly released book, “Early Decision.” Crawford will talk about her debut novel at the Nov. 4 meeting of the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild.
“Early Decision” follows 27-year-old Anne, a character modeled on Crawford, who coaches five high school seniors through the college application process. Although the book is “based on a true frenzy,” Crawford said it’s not a memoir.
“I wrote the book, in part, to try to understand and write my way out of what I think is a trap for a lot of parents who are in the privileged position to worry about college,” she said. “You want to make sure you can give your child every opportunity, but at the same time, you also want to give them a childhood.
“Growing up is more important than getting in.”
Crawford started this work in 1997 when she took a job as an English teacher at a private school in the San Francisco Bay Area. When her students requested no homework so they could work on their college essays, Crawford assigned the essays for homework.
“Because it was a writing class, I suggested that they bring their college essays in. They weren’t particularly good essays even though the students were very strong,” said Crawford, who graduated from Princeton in 1996 with an English degree. “I realized that it was a form of writing the high school students were not taught. They’re taught to write book reports, lab reports and history papers, but not a 500- or 600-word personal essay that is going to make or break the rest of their lives.”
Parents started requesting her assistance. She continued working with students when she pursued her master’s degree at the University of Chicago.
But it was having children of her own that inspired her to write a book about her experiences.
In 2010, Crawford and her husband had their first son and moved to San Francisco. She said her perspective changed when she began panicking about applications after her friends said she missed some of the deadlines for the city’s best preschools.
“For the families who are involved in this, I hope [the book] makes them laugh,” said Crawford, now a mother of 1- and 3-year-old boys. “I hope it makes them feel they can ease up a tiny bit.”
“Early Decision” will help readers learn how to get into school, Crawford said, but she hopes it also helps parents and their children discover how to avoid “the trap.”
“It is true that pretty much everything I’ve learned about the way admission offices work and who gets in, is in the book. So it’s useful, but it’s not a cheat sheet,” Crawford said. “It’s meant to be a good story and a good ride — and possibly give some perspective and a sense of humor to a very challenging time.”
The “Fall Author Talk” event will include a light lunch, the author presentation, a question and answer session, and a signed copy of the book. Tickets cost $40.
“I think it will be a great conversation, not limited to people who are going through this,” Crawford said. “You don’t have to be the mother of a high school senior. Everyone has a college experience and everyone has experience with college graduates in this generation. I think it’s a topic that’s wider than 17 year olds and their parents.”
The event will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Rancho Santa Fe Library, 17040 Avenida de Acacias in Rancho Santa Fe.
For more information about the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild, visit www.rsflibraryguild.org.