In a coffee shop today in Santa Monica, California, two Hollywood screenwriters were discussing the highly selective college admissions process in between bemoaning a Hollywood studio’s reluctance to give a green-light to a movie based upon their script starring an octogenarian. We have a feeling that we could have offered them some insight on their feature in development (how many movies star folks in their 80’s?), but we let it go and instead listened intently as one of the screenwriters read aloud his son’s Personal Statement. Before he started reading it, he prefaced the essay with this: “I hired a fantastic private college counselor who knows all the secrets of admission to all the Ivy League colleges. And they came up with this. How good is this?” As you can imagine, we couldn’t wait.
The essay read something like this, “While I’m not even six feet, I’ve been a member of my school’s varsity basketball team throughout high school and have helped them win a couple of league titles. Last year, I suffered a knee injury while making a layup against our school’s arch-rival. The injury landed me on the bench for several weeks, but with hard work, a determined spirit, and perseverance, I worked my way back from injury to be my team’s leader in assists. The whole experience taught me a valuable lesson about hard work, determination, and overcoming obstacles, lessons I will always carry with me.” That was the essay in a nutshell. And, as you can imagine, we cringed. At Every. Single. Word. Trite, trite, trite. Not another sports essay. Not another overcoming obstacles essay. Not another thanks for the valuable lesson essay. Get the idea? If not, read this post on Sports in College Admissions Essays.
It doesn’t at all surprise us when we hear a bad college essay. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We rarely — if ever — hear a good college essay. When a parent tells us that her kid’s essay is first rate, we roll our eyes. Because we know they can’t see our eyes roll on the other side of the phone. If we’re on Skype, we try to be more subtle but it’s what we’re thinking! What also frustrates us is that there are such bad private college counselors out there. Sure, there are good ones. There are great ones. But there are also terrible ones, like the one who gave the proverbial green-light to this admissions essay. Whomever they hired should not work in the field of private college counseling because, well, they don’t know…we trust you can finish this sentence. Just as there are bad lawyers and great lawyers, bad plumbers and great plumbers, there are great private college counselors and there are bad private college counselors. Do your research so that your child doesn’t work on an essay that comes out sounding like the one we heard today in a Santa Monica coffee shop.