College Application Essays have been a hot topic for the last decade. A recent article on Money and Values appeared on the front page of the Business Section in The New York Times. The article was about how many students have successfully used the topic of money as the backdrop for their essays. But wedged into the article, there were a few other powerful affirmations: 1) Admission officials can be skeptical of essays that seem too polished or overwritten; 2) Every year admissions offices receive at least one essay that picks apart an affluent suburb; 3) Reference to “designer service projects,” where teenagers do volunteer work outside the United States, at their parents’ expense.
1 ) There is no question that the more parents, neighbors and “experts” who evaluate and comment on a student’s essay, the greater the chance the essay will lose its genuineness and can cross the line to being “overwritten.” Our approach at CPW has always been to uncover the unique stories that students themselves have written and help bring them to life. But we need to let THEM write it.
2) I personally like the introspective essay that only a student living within an affluent area can write. But it really is about capturing the contrasts in life and portraying the unique differences. It isn’t about seeing entitlement when others don’t see it that way, but rather articulating a perspective—any perspective. Perspective can show true academic curiosity and discovery; one has to see the bigger picture in order to demonstrate mastery of their views and insights.
3) One of my pet peeves is the designer service project, perhaps retelling about building a house in a remote part of the third world. Since it has become so commonplace in our area, how can students possibly distinguish themselves from others when they are all having the same experiences? Unique experiences are harder and harder to find. While it’s not bad to have an awakening to truly appreciate one’s place in society, admissions officers tend to view those essays as privileged. Rather than taking a trip around the world to find a story, students can find a meaningful “job” locally, or volunteer in a local program where they can make their mark. As long as they grow from their experience, and can communicate their passion to others, it can make a good essay.
With the cost of college rising and the increase in graduates from even the top schools who are unemployed or underemployed, there will be even more pressure to make the college years more productive and lucrative than ever before. We can help get students started on their journey by guiding them in capturing their unique thoughts and expressing them in a way that will resonate with their choice colleges.