Writing College Admissions Essays

A wonderful essay on writing college admissions essays. Right now I am on the other side of the fence, trying to teach those who might not have been able to write those essays to write well. What’s the secret? Write. Write some more. Write some more. That’s what I think the secret is. I have my students write their papers once. Then I have them rewrite them. They are always better the second time, even when they are not perfect. I wish I had time to have them write three or four versions of each essay. Some of my students take advantage of that option, though. If they come to class with an essay the day I give class time to writing the essay, then I will mark it and their “first” essay is actually a re-write of the draft I marked up.

Some of the things the article mentions are the question “How honest should I be?” and the idea that personal essays are TOO personal and so they get shredded.

“Essay anxiety seems particularly intense at top academic settings…”

But the most fascinating thing in the article, as far as I was concerned, was this paragraph:

The school’s college counselor runs an information-gathering network the CIA would envy, keeping everyone primed with up-to-the-minute admissions-office intelligence on how to construct (on paper, at least) the ideal applicant. Such knowledge is intended to help ease the pressure, but this year it’s having the opposite effect, as the most recent ivory tower intell makes toast of some long-held assumptions. Foremost among these is the mantra that the Ivy League and other top schools covet something called the well-rounded student; the revelation that this is no longer the case has reduced to jelly all the basketball-playing, band-marching, church-volunteering, soup-kitchen-staffing, math-tutoring students like Angela with their inch-thick résumés and over-scheduled lives. These are the kids who spent years amassing bone-crushing hours of extracurricular activities in order to appear triumphantly well-rounded in their personal essays, only to learn the same colleges that demanded all this have suddenly realized they had created an exercise in joyless resume padding. Now the counselor is telling everyone that the ideal applicant is supposed to pursue a great passion – one deeply loved activity, two at the most, mastered with dedication and verve, with some room left over for having a life. The sense of betrayal at this turn-about is painful to behold in kids whose march to college began, in some cases, with after-school academies while still in kindergarten: “I gave up having a life because that’s what they wanted us to do,” a student in my workshop agonizes, as he tries to select one of his many passionless pursuits as a new great passion. “Now they say, never mind?”

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