College Application Essays

These “college application essays” are very depressing. They are so scripted, so predictable, so boring. Except for the one about the taxes, none of them has any life in it.

We wrote this kind of ideologically correct blather to prove we were faithful to the ruling ideology back in the USSR. But at least none of us believed the self-righteous, terminologically rigorous crap we were spouting. It’s a sad thing that all I can hope for is that these kids are utter cynics who are Soviet-like in their cold-blooded readiness to say whatever needed to succeed and to get access to a better range of consumer goods.

Advertisements

43 thoughts on “College Application Essays”

  1. Ugh. I have little patience with ornate language, even when it’s wielded by someone with skill. These essays are all so gooey and sentimental (except the tax one, which is matter-of-fact, focused on the present and on something the applicant has done of her own volition).

    Like

  2. They are too young to be cynical and anyways college essays are massaged to within an inch of their lives because they need to appeal to gatekeepers who will determine whether they are worthy of being accepted to the colleges they apply to. It’s not enough to have great test scores and grades; you have to prove you are a worthy citizen too. Your parents get drawn into it too; every application asked me what level of education my parents had and where they got it. I know you say your college is exceptionally affordable, but most people take out loans and to take out loans you fill out FAFSA and for that you need your parents’ tax forms. Most schools expect that if you’re under 25 that your parents will be co-signing on on loans and use that to determine how much they expect you to pay.

    Of course these essays are ideologically correct in the most predictable fashion. “Ethnic but not too much,” “feminist but not too much,” “I am a good hard worker but I see nothing Marxist in this and I bear no resentment” are predictable lines of thought for essays. College admissions officers absolutely don’t want to hear about the anxiety any of these students suffer or see any of it peek out in their written materials.

    Like

  3. I didn’t mind the first one. It was a bit overwritten but still interesting. I agree that the tax one was good. The “cow/girl with a deep voice one” was unbearable. And the rest ran together in a river of naval -gazing mediocrity.

    But this is the genre. I absolutely dreaded the autobiographical essay when I was in high school. I’m not sure why college admissions boards want to read the fevered self reflections of teenagers. But they do and it’s been that was since at least the 90s. And, other than misguided creative writing classes, they will never be asked to write an essay like that again. It’s a weird performative exercise.

    Like

    1. Actually, of the five, I thought the first kid was the only one with some real literary talent. Just as you said, his essay is overwritten, but he’s young. He’s going to Harvard; I hope he gets some good writing coaching there. Either way, he could be awesome some years down the road, or he could still overwrite (which, sadly, is my beef with most literary fiction, this preciousness, the ceaseless signaling of how sensitive and erudite the author is).

      The tax one seemed honest and down-to-earth, written by a kid who has her shit together and knows what she wants and what she cares about.

      The two on the farm and the one with the grandma cleaning are just bad — sentimental, poorly structured, grasping for a premise, just cringe-worthy all around. If these are the best, I cannot imagine what the rest are like.

      I looked over my kid’s essay — once (Eldest is starting college in the fall). He applied to my school and a neighboring state school and got into both for a double major (bio + music; he’s graduating with high honors and has state-level awards in music). He talked about himself in specific terms: this is what sparked my interests in such and such, this is what I’ve done so far in these fields and the specific recognition/awards I got for it, and this is why I want to go to your school for these subjects and why I think the school and I are a good match. It was lean, mean, and to the point, no BS; I flagged every generic statement and told him to remove or replace it with one that is specific to his situation. Not sure if that would have worked at the Harvard/Yale level; perhaps they expect flowery bullshit.

      What I hate even more than purple prose are platitudes. I think it is the scientist in me that rolls her eyes at such vacuity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They do expect flowery b.s., and look down upon the kind of essay you’ve advised your son to write. His is more honorable, but it will condemn him to an allegedly lesser school.

        Like

        1. Do you think everyone writes these, even the applicants in the sciences and engineering? Or, say, applicants in music or art, where an audition and/or a portfolio is a critical part of the application? I can’t imagine that if you have a really talented mathematician or painter or musician, you’d still care whether or not they can write this kind of stuff in order to be admitted. But I didn’t do my Bachelor’s in the US, so I don’t really know.

          Like

          1. Yes. You don’t apply to a major, but to a school. Also, people actually interested in humanities are those least inclined to write this way — writing instruction in our fields is designed to lead people AWAY from vague b.s., not toward it. This is the kind of crap that tends to pass as writing more easily among people in less intellectually oriented fields.

            Like

          2. Or do you think fields other than science, engineering, music, and art don’t deserve intelligent students or decent writing? HONESTLY I would say someone who wrote like this could only make it in fields like the ones you mention, where they will never have to write for a living ! ! !

            Like

            1. No, of course all fields deserve good students. I am just trying to understand who exactly pushes this kind of writing. I know for example that my son’s English teacher looked at everyone’s admissions essays and she basically advised them along the lines I did: clear ideas, specificity, etc. Also, I know that art schools and many engineering schools have their own admissions (so not everything is centralized). I didn’t want to be obnoxious, I honestly don’t know who actually pushes this bs if nobody on either side of the admissions process cares for it (highschool teachers or university teachers). Is this the case of a whole stratum of admissions officers having their own preferred genre? And how are these preferences communicated to students, if not through “college essay specialists”?

              Like

              1. I can only speculate that introducing subjective requirements in the applications process gives schools cover in admitting their preferred candidates. Sure, Jason Wu might have perfect test scores, but Noah Templeton’s application was more ‘well-rounded’, whatever the fuck that means. Oh, Mr Templeton’s dad also went to our school, but rest assured that had no bearing on his chances.

                It’s such a trite thing to say that ‘objective’ test scores aren’t a ‘true’ measure of a student’s ability. But then all these extra-curricular activities, piano lessons, or whatever else you need to show your well-roundedness aren’t any better. They’re heavily skewed towards people who can afford all this shit.

                Like

              2. I think it has to be — although some of them may be faculty, I don’t know. But it is this kind of writing people have to be trained out of, not into. I do notice that faculty in fields like marketing, hospitality, education administration, nursing, kinesiology, and counseling psychology actually think this kind of writing has substance. You know — the non-research fields. And I know some MFA types who like empty effusiveness, as well.

                Like

              3. Nobody tries so hard to please if they aren’t hoping for a job that pays at least $200,000. And that’s not a job in hospitality. :-)))

                Like

              4. Well, I think the professors in the b-school who teach it make a fair amount more than I do. But what I meant was, I think those are the folks, marketing, hospitality, who tend to like this kind of writing…

                Like

              5. Ah the well-roundedness bullshit. I think the best bit of info I heard or read about that is that top schools want a well-rounded student body, not well-rounded students. Especially top schools want very spiky students, students who really stand out in their area of pursuit. That the whole well-rounded thing is, as Stringer Bell hints, a bullshit unquantifiable claim that is used when someone meritorious is being denied admission without cause.

                Which of course brings about this great essay by Malcolm Gladwell:
                https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/10/10/getting-in

                And a couple more recent pieces:
                https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/where-admissions-went-wrong/475575/
                and a great humorous one that hits close to home:
                https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-honest-college-rejection-letter

                Like

              6. I think high school students learn about the genre from counselors, who learn about it from commercial counseling-prep organizations of some kind, and that the essays are first screened by secretaries who otherwise watch Oprah.

                Like

            2. No, of course all fields deserve good students. I am just trying to understand who exactly pushes this kind of writing. I know for example that my son’s English teacher looked at everyone’s admissions essays and she basically advised them along the lines I did: clear ideas, specificity, etc. Also, I know that art schools and many engineering schools have their own admissions (so not everything is centralized). I didn’t want to be obnoxious, I honestly don’t know who actually pushes this bs if nobody on either side of the admissions process cares for it (highschool teachers or university teachers). Is this the case of a whole stratum of admissions officers having their own preferred genre? And how are these preferences communicated to students, if not through “college essay specialists”?

              Btw, I don’t know about the arts, but in STEM there is a lot of writing. All I ever do is read, write, and edit students’ writing. STEM jobs are all to some degree (or a large degree) technical writing jobs.

              Like

              1. What matters is not how they write but whether they demonstrate complete allegiance to a certain ideology. This is not a writing test. It’s an ideological purity test. They’ll end up at Harvard and they will learn to write beautifully. This is a technical skill that isn’t hard to pick up. But they have to profess the correct faith to be admitted. That’s what this is all about.

                Like

              2. “What matters is not how they write but whether they demonstrate complete allegiance to a certain ideology. ”

                Yup. Being cut-throat macho is so celebrated in business. You can’t read one profile of a hedgefunder or business titan without a mention of how much of a psychopath he is (but stated in glowing terms: ‘he wouldn’t let his grandma/kids beat him in monopoly! Swoon!). Yet, to gain entry in harvard business schools you must demonstrate so much generosity of spirit and concern for your human beings that it would shame The Dalai Lama.

                Like

  4. \ all I can hope for is that these kids are utter cynics who are Soviet-like in their cold-blooded readiness to say whatever needed to succeed and to get access to a better range of consumer goods.

    I haven’t read those essays, but I thought you were going to write such an essay for Klara yourself, when you talked about her being a legacy to Yale.

    Obviously, I assumed you were planning to write it in the most … correct manner possible.

    Like

    1. By the time she’s 18, I’ll be almost 60. Can you imagine the ridiculousness of a woman that age posing as a teenager?

      Not that I’m going to do get homework for her, let alone control her college applications anyway. She’s already very headstrong. At 18 it will be quite major. :-))

      Like

    2. God, these are awful (the tax one being the least bad). I can’t write these. I did one when I applied to college and I’m sure it was very bad. I knew it wouldn’t matter because they only read them for people about they’d have to think, I would be admitted automatically because I had grades, coursework and SAT scores that would get me in to that school (large, public) automatically — I may even have been admitted by a machine! Still I had to write it and without coaching, just knew I had to start with some form of exoticism and a class marker, so I wrote about how I was an exchange student which was true but it is only in retrospect that I really realize how uncannily I knew I had to say something that would make me middle to upper middle class and genteel, because I did not have struggles I could exoticize in soft focus. Later on, when I applied to law school and only did medium-well at it, part of the reason was that I refused to write essays in this style, I did them much more in the style of a job application cover letter, or statement of purpose for a research grant. I was told this was incredibly dry and unattractive of me but refused to package and sell self when what I wanted was to highlight appropriate skills and lay out plans. Ick!!!

      Like

      1. You’ll LOVE “Essay B”!

        Essay B asks students to imagine a person they might meet in college—someone from a very different background. Ten years ago, Mariya’s mostly white high school classmates in Texas didn’t write about an imaginary person they might meet in the future. They just wrote about the one different person they already knew—Mariya

        This poor girl had to read all these essays where her classmates imagined all kinds of stereotypes about her to make themselves look good to an admissions board.

        Like

        1. Jesus. And this brings me to how much I hate diversity training. In these workshops we are always supposed to make confessions about dealing with people of color or genderqueer, of which by today’s flexible standards I could in fact allege I am both, and I always talk about how exotic white people and men and Christians and Republicans are to me, and how I have finally come to realize that they are human even if odd, and how I even keep one as a kind of pet. I am not kidding, this is what I do because I am so mad.

          Like

  5. Btw, such essays don’t exist in Israel. Only if you want to become a doctor, I heard about a personal interview being a part of the process, but not in other faculties.

    Like

  6. I got kicked out my high school creative writing class (twice) for writing autobiographical essays that were a bit more raw and real. I wish I still had those. One of them was pretty good if I recall.

    About getting kicked out of class, that was nothing unusual, so it’s not like that result was unexpected. I was white, though, so I chilled out with the principal for a bit and then went to the next class. I think that principal was a lot like me (bored of school and unchallenged) when he was young, so we had an understanding of sorts.

    That digression aside, I had trouble reading those essays because of their utter servility and unctuous hokum.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. These remind me of the Salsa episode in Superstore (a sitcom). When the employees (a latina and a filipino) manning a salsa display speak normally no one is interested when they adopt stereotypical accents and prance around in mexican hats it flies off the shelf (there’s more to it, it’s great)

    Like

  8. God those are tedious and demeaning, I feel embarrassed reading them, imagine the poor people who had to write them.
    I’ve always hated that kind of thing, back as an undergraduate I was supposed to write something like that to be officially admitted to my major but I put it off for two years. I had an official major on paper while I took courses and only forced myself to write the miserable thing (nowhere near as awful as the linked abominations but pretty awful in its one way) the semester before I graduated.

    Like

  9. The tax one was at least the most straightforwardly written. Though I rolled my eyes a bit at starting with a quote (a cheap gambit promoted by high school writing). The cow one actually resonated with me quite a bit, as someone who also grew up in a rural area, was their father’s child, struggled with femininity, etc. Though the conclusion was… bad.

    Like

    1. It’s really annoying when they start an essay with a quote. But it’s even worse when they start with a dictionary definition. “The Merriam Webster defines truth as something that is not a lie. In my essay, I want to bring the light of truth to the important subject of violence in Latin America.” Makes me apoplectic.

      Like

  10. Oh, my God. Humanitarians of Tinder. And these Europeans seem to be even more blatant and unconscious than the Americans. Now then, I was an exchange student to Denmark and the reason they sent me there, it turned out, was that I had liberal to left politics and had not requested a particular religion. All right. So what was Denmark’s interest in me? Well, I had wanted to go to South America, because I was working on Spanish and had already spent noticeable time in Spain/Europe, and I like the less-built-up geography of the Americas. So the Danish committee spotted me as someone with exoticist desires like theirs. “We hoped to have a student from Africa or Ecuador, but you clearly share our interests, so we like you, too,” they said. So I had to deal with these women who wanted to sleep with exotic men. Det var pinligt, to say the very least.

    Like

  11. Yup. Being cut-throat macho is so celebrated in business. You can’t read one profile of a hedgefunder or business titan without a mention of how much of a psychopath he is (but stated in glowing terms: ‘he wouldn’t let his grandma/kids beat him in monopoly! Swoon!). Yet, to gain entry in harvard business schools you must demonstrate so much generosity of spirit and concern for your human beings that it would shame The Dalai Lama.

    I’m trying to figure out which outre Great Man From History(TM)’s life can be mined for business lessons. There are already Art of War and Macchiavelli books and books based on Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun. I think we need a Lean In from Elizabeth Bathory’s point of view.
    –Someone from Harvard Business Review, probably.

    These essays suck is because they’re from people who cannot write and have to write to silly prompts. The other is the pool of applicants skews young and most 17-18 year olds have neither the life experience, insight or skill to craft a good personal essay. Most grad students skew young, and frankly most business majors cannot write well either. Business writing is a different skill than personal essay writing. Maybe the show of generosity of spirit and concern for fellow human beings is to screen for future donors. Applicants who cannot fake it are unlikely to donate as alums. :p

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On Shark Tank, I listen to Kevin O’Leary who’s all “greed is good, it’s a about money” and I’m horrified. But then I see these young entrepreneurs who are all “we want to save the world, we are all about good causes, so we found a way to exploit the free labor of blind old ladies dying of illnesses that they can’t treat because we cleverly stole their health insurance” and I’m thinking, this is so much worse than any regular aynrandian crap.

      Like

    2. OK wait. Dayum. In real life: my brother always won at Monopoly — partly because of really paying attention and partly because my mother was good at it too, and would have extra money, and would pass some of it to him. Much later on he turns out to be with real money and with other people exactly as he was in Monopoly. It this, then, a Thing?

      Like

      1. My sister always trashed me in Monopoly. She was so good. And guess who is a successful business woman now and who is an underpaid academic? :-)))

        Yeah, there’s something to it.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.