We came across an editorial up on “The Week” written by Annabel Monaghan entitled “Why it’s impossible to write a good college admission essay” that we figured we’d share with our readers. Ms. Monaghan is the parent of a college applicant and she’s got some thoughts on college admission essays. For starters, we of course 100% disagree with the title of the piece. It is misleading, but we understand that it is Ms. Monaghan’s opinion and while we disagree with many of her statements, she presents her case nicely (and we do empathize with her). We’d also like to mention that there is not one college admission essay. There are many college admission essays and each essay matters a great deal. But we suspect Ms. Monaghan is referring to the Common Application Personal Statement.
So why does Ms. Monaghan believe it impossible to write a good college admission essay? As she writes in her piece, “As the parent of a rising high school senior, I’ve been to my fair share of college information sessions lately. The admissions officer always concludes with the same set of comments about the application: namely, that the college essay must capture your true and authentic voice and reveal the essence of who you really are. Exactly that line, 100 percent of the time. I look over at my son every time, his eyes glazed over. I love this kid, and the essence of who he really is astounds me. But there is no way in hell that he, flipping through his Instagrams and quietly plotting his next meal, is going to have an easy time summing up his essential him-ness in 500 words.” Well, not to be too critical, but you’re allowed to write 650 words for the Common Application Personal Statement so you should of course use all of the real estate you are afforded (not 500 words). Writing only 500 words is a mistake.
Ms. Monaghan then goes on to write about her college essay in which she boasted of being the president of her high school. As we’ve said many times on the pages of this college admissions blog, the Common Application Personal Statement is not the place to boast about accomplishments and students need not incorporate their activities. Perhaps Ms. Monaghan doesn’t think it’s possible to write a good college admission essay because she doesn’t know what a good college admission essay is. A good college admission essay demonstrates how a student thinks, how he approaches the world, how he loves learning. It is not a patchwork of accomplishment and after-school activities. That would indeed make for a lousy college admission essay. The best college admission essays, as we’ve said so many times, are about absolutely nothing (you’ll need to read more of our blogs to fully understand this!). And one can totally encapsulate nothing in 650 words. When a student writes about seemingly nothing, they can actually showcase the essence of who they are, what makes them tick, and what they stand for. To write about nothing — and to do so well — can be quite powerful indeed.