A core objective of our college admissions blog is to correct misconceptions about the highly selective college admissions process, misconceptions perpetuated by students, parents, high school counselors, private college counselors (yes, there are plenty of private college counselors who give some pretty bad advice!), admissions officers, journalists, and, heck, even local deli clerks. But rarely have we come across so many misconceptions all in one place and never have we come across so many misconceptions all in one place in the “Newspaper of Record.” That’s right. There is an article in “The New York Times” today, one of — if not the — most respected publications in all the world, that is laden with falsehoods about what college applicants should and shouldn’t write about in their college essays.
Perpetuating Misconceptions About College Essays
In a piece entitled “How to Write a Good College Application Essay” in “The New York Times” today by Janet Morrissey, even the title perpetuates a misconception. You see, there is not one college admissions essay. There are many college admissions essays. Apply to a school like Stanford University and you’ll find more than ten essays — in addition to the Personal Statement. Characterizing the college admissions essay writing process as writing one essay is misleading. And it’s not as though Ms. Morrissey simply forgot to write essay in the plural form. Indeed she writes, “An essay should explain why a student wants to attend a particular college and not others.” Oh? How exactly is a college applicant to do that in a Personal Statement that is sent to every Common App. subscriber to which the student applies? No, no. The Personal Statement, the essay Ms. Morrissey is seemingly writing about throughout her whole piece, should not in any way be tailored to a particular college. A Why College essay, an essay that many colleges pose on the supplement — now that’s a different story. Every sentence of a Why College essay should be specifically tailored to the individual school.
But Ms. Morrissey isn’t done perpetuating misconceptions about college essays. In fact, she’s only getting warmed up. She writes, “Emphasize volunteer work or other ways you’ve helped people or made your community a better place. It helps if the activity is related to the subject you want to study.” No, no, no! Applicants to highly selective schools need not emphasize volunteer work. Talk about a transparent way to kiss up to admissions officers and attempt to sway them that an applicant is a good person. Highly selective colleges seek singularly talented students, not well-rounded students. Volunteering is but one angle. If a highly selective college admitted a class in which everyone was interested in volunteering, they’d have one not very diverse class.
Oh and Ms. Morrissey isn’t done yet. Not even close. As she writes, “Mention internships, summer courses, extracurricular activities or lab work that show steps you’ve taken to learn and understand your field of interest. That will help show you know the field you’ve chosen to study and are passionate about it.” No, the Personal Statement should not be used to tout all of your activities — certainly not internships, summer courses, extracurricular activities or lab work. The Personal Statement is not a resume! Yikes! That’s like going on a date and bragging about all of your achievements. “I’ve done this. I’ve done that. Date me! Date me!” Nobody wants to date that person, not ever!
It gets worse. Ms. Morrissey writes, “Explain with knowledge and passion why you want to study at this particular college rather than at others. Tell why the school’s size, curriculum, social atmosphere, location, professors or history influenced your choice.” A college applicant should absolutely not write about any specific college in their Personal Statement. Ms. Morrissey is clearly confusing the Personal Statement with the Why College essay throughout her piece, an essay prompt that is posed on many college supplements.
As we’ve evidenced, we agree with just about nothing Ms. Morrissey has written in this piece in “The New York Times.” A paper with “all the news fit to print” printed some myths today — certainly not news. But we’ll end this post with just about the only thing Ms. Morrissey wrote in the piece that we happen to agree with…just for the heck of it: “Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation are critical. Use grammar, syntax and writing with a level of sophistication that shows you’re ready for college.” Yes, we agree that spelling and grammar matter. But, by the way, dare to break a grammatical rule from time to time. Write colloquially. Start a sentence with “and” or “but.” Defy your English teachers every now and then; it can be powerful. So apparently we don’t 100% agree with this point either. Shocking, we know.