Enough of the self-satisfied navel gazing

No, I’m not talking about blogging; I’m talking about the college admissions essay, one of the most absurd and smug pieces of writing that young scholars will ever produce. (See here and here for some commentary on this subject.)

A personal statement is usually about five hundred words long (a page and a half double spaced); the subject matter is a 17-year-old who quite often, has lived an entirely normal life and lacks something profound upon which to reflect and the perspective that enables one to reflect upon such an experience.

I much prefer the idea of long essays that showcase a student’s creativity and ability to think critically and write something more complex than a five-paragraph essay.  There are also essays with neat prompts (e.g. “We flip to page 241 of your 300-page biography.  What does it say?”) that encourage students to think creatively and provide a bit of fun.

However, the current essays (“Tell us about a hardship that you overcame”) is, at best, a complete waste of time; at worst, it results in the whiny “listen to me, I’m a victim!” mentality that suffuses modern university campuses.  The current essay also encourages students to take private tribulations (e.g. family strife, a struggle with depression) and turn it into a literary tap-dance routine for the benefit of college admissions officials. Far better to let students show their personalities more indirectly and let them maintain some dignity.


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