College Application Essays

Source: WSJ, Aug 2013

The grim statistics of the college admissions race (last year Harvard reported a 5.79% acceptance rate), fueled by an obsession with trophy schools, have warped what might be a powerful threshold for adolescents. At the very moment when teenagers are invited to offer what they’ve learned and who they’ve become, their voices are hijacked by well-meaning adults who think kids can’t possibly be allowed to risk answering these questions on their own.

My students always asked me, What should I write about?

I’d answer: You are a student of the world. What is it that moves you? What incites you, enrages you? The first-person pronoun is a mighty tool. Use it.

I have had successful students write about the virtues of napping (Middlebury), failing a course (Harvard), and having to shoot a farm dog because it couldn’t work stock (Princeton). Once a student came out to me in his fifth (and best) draft. His parents probably still don’t know; but they got the Ivy Leaguer they wanted (Penn).

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