The Ivy Coach Daily

August 25, 2022

Our Least Favorite Word in College Essays

You should wish to surround yourself with people who think like you, right? Wrong (photo credit: Gavin Huang).

There are plenty of words and phrases we encourage students applying to elite schools to avoid in their college essays. Thinking of including an inspiring quote from someone else? Think again. Elite college admissions officers don’t want to hear what other people think — not even famous people — they want to hear from you! They want to know how you think. Thinking of including a few humble brags here and there, like how you raised money for a certain cause or received a certain award? Think again. When the game is being likable, why would you talk about money or boast of achievements? But while there are lots of words and phrases we discourage students from including in their college essays, there is one phrase we dislike more than any other. That phrase? Like-minded.

So many students include sentences in their college essays — particularly their Why College essays — about how they wish to surround themselves with like-minded students. Yet, beyond this being a general sentence that could apply to any university in America when the whole game of Why College essays is capturing the specifics of an institution, it’s exactly what elite college admissions officers are not looking for. That’s right — they don’t want students who seek out like-minded fellow students. Rather, they want to admit students who are going to surround themselves with students who are different from themselves.

Perhaps former Dartmouth College President Jim Wright, who died earlier this week, said it best: “I always used to tell students that there’s nothing wrong with seeking out friends, students who are most like you. But I said you are seldom going to learn anything if you’re hanging out just with people who are like you and who think like you. Seek out those from different backgrounds and different experiences. Seek out those who will say to you why do you think that, why do you believe that, why do you like that music, why don’t you read this book, why don’t you try this food, why don’t you, why don’t you. That’s what education is about. That’s what learning is about. And I urge people all the time to make sure they take advantage of an opportunity that they have here that may be harder to replicate later in their lives of being part of such a diverse group of students and faculty.”

Well said, President Wright. Well said indeed. Now, if only, students at colleges across the nation put to practice this sage advice. If only one could go into a college dining hall and not see baseball players sitting with baseball players or Native American students sitting with Native American students or ROTC cadets sitting with ROTC cadets. While it’s certainly nice to form community, wouldn’t it be nice if students at these schools formed their communities with people from outside their activities, ethnic / religious groups, and other such cohorts as well? Students — and their institutions — can and must do more to make this happen, to heed the wise counsel of President Wright. For too many decades, we’ve been seeing this scenario play out in dining halls across our nation’s college landscape.

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