Thinking about writing about something embarrassing in your college essays? Maybe about a time you accidentally wet your pants or let out a fart in public? In a recent piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education by Matt Feeney entitled “The Abiding Scandal of College Admissions,” he shares the story of a serial farter. As he writes, “Ed Boland, a veteran of Yale admissions, recalls a girl whose essay on how she was a ‘serial farter’ improved her chances at Yale. The serial farter, in Boland’s words, was going for something about ‘gender and socialization.'” One of the student’s college essays apparently “celebrate[d] her harmless feminist farting.” Yes, you read that correctly. Her harmless feminist farting.
And while writing about farting may have worked for this applicant, we would never, ever recommend a student focus on such a subject in any of their college admissions essays. We’re all for students making vulnerable confessions in their essays, but there’s a line and serial farting crosses that line in our book, feminist or not. Could an admissions officer like such an essay? Yes, apparently Ed Boland liked it, though, according to his LinkedIn, he worked at Yale for a year back in 1988-1989. So what worked 33 years ago, well, doesn’t necessarily work today — to say the least! In any case, even back in 1988, the applicant was running too big of a risk as there was a reasonable chance another admissions officer wouldn’t like such an essay, even finding it rather gross. You don’t want to gross out an admissions officer and you never want to do something in admissions just because it worked for someone else. They could very well have been the exception, not the rule.
Yet when people read a piece such as Mr. Feeney’s, they may well come away thinking they should be vulnerable and write about their passion for, say, farting. After all, so many young people love a good fart. But they’d be mistaken to write about farts. It too easily can demonstrate a lack of intellectual curiosity. It too easily can lead an admissions officer to want to roll their eyes and pull down their masks for some fresh air. While it’s ok to be vulnerable in college admissions essays, it’s not ok to be gross and it’s not ok to devote the most valuable real estate you have in your application to something as silly as farting.
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