Going to college is a rite of passage for many American high school students, but the process can be overwhelming: college fairs, tours, SATs, applications. And then there’s the personal essay. How does a seventeen-year old define herself to total strangers when she’s only beginning to discover who she really is? And how can she be expected to do it in an essay of 500 words or less?
Point Made Films takes you on the journey to college with four very different young people as they spend their last year at home with their families trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.
Molly is a middle-class field hockey star living in suburban New Jersey. She decided she wanted to go to Princeton when she was 7 years old and has been working for it ever since. But by her senior year of high school, she realizes her grades, activities and standardized test scores won’t stand out compared to other applicants. She gets real; her mother doesn’t, and still wants to hold out for the Ivy League.
Leo is a first generation Dominican American going to high school in Yonkers, New York. Raised by a single mother who never finished college, he feels as if the weight of her sacrifices rests on him. He has set his sights on the country’s most selective schools because, in his mind, anything less will be failure. But the prospect of getting accepted brings just as much anxiety: will he simply be an outsider?
Lindsay is a politically active idealist living just outside Washington, D.C., who describes herself as ‘deceptively cheerful.’ Her constant smile and wry sense of humor hide the fact that she’s quietly saying ‘goodbye’ to her mother who has been in hospice nearly a year. She hopes college will be her chance to escape some of that sadness, grow into womanhood, and be able to live within minutes of all her friends. She’s so anxious to get the whole application process over with that she decides to apply to one school only–her mother’s alma mater.
Michael is the class clown at his private Atlanta prep school. Despite being part of a family of overachievers, he loves to live by the motto, ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ Whether he’s starring in the school play, playing video games with his brother, or reading about the Enlightenment (for fun?), he’s pretty content… and eventually gets around to schoolwork. His laid back approach tends to stress out his parents, especially when it comes to college applications. They’re hoping he’ll follow his older sister to Harvard, but they’re not quite sure how to make him get his applications in on deadline.
Parents and teens alike will recognize the aspirations, anxieties, disappointments and triumphs in these characters’ lives. Whether they’re about to begin the process or have just gotten through it, they’ll ride with Molly on her emotional roller coaster as she tries to balance her parents’ expectations with her own goals; encourage Leo to fulfill his mother’s American dream while trying to maintain ties to his Dominican heritage; root for Lindsay as she searches for her next home while the one she’s known for 17 years gets turned upside down by illness and loss; and they’ll cheer Michael on as he steps out from behind his sister’s Ivy League shadow to discover his own priorities.
‘In 500 Words or Less’ serves as a portrait of four of the nearly 1.5 million families who go through this process each year. While race, geography and socio-economic status affected how they got here, their stories converge as they all juggle acceptance, rejection, decision-making and letting go.