Writing Ability and College Admissions

Writing and College Admissions, Write and College Admission

You don’t have to be Aaron Sorkin (creator of “The West Wing”) to get into college. But your writing abilities do matter and too many college applicants can’t write. At all (photo credit: Pruneau).

If there is one thing that we’ve noticed in the many years we’ve worked in the field of highly selective college admissions, it’s that test scores and grades in no way correlate with writing ability. We’ve seen students with straight A’s and near-perfect or perfect SAT scores write some awful, awful college essays. Maybe they wrote about kicking in the winning goal in a soccer game. Maybe they wrote about winning a science competition. Maybe they wrote about a trip to India. All of these topics, by the way, are trite and should be avoided in college essays.

But even if you choose a boring, trite subject matter (don’t do this…but if you do), it’s ironic that these students with such perfect grades and scores can’t even execute a well written essay. A good writer can make something good out of nothing. A bad writer can’t. It’s that simple. And most college applicants are bad writers. This may not be PC. This may not be what you want to hear. But it’s true. Most college applicants don’t have the slightest clue what makes a good essay. They seem to lack a command of the English language. It’s so very unfortunate.

That’s why we read what good essays are to our students. We’ll read them essay after essay. But even this isn’t enough. They’ll still turn in bad drafts after reading good essays. But then we’ll work with the students to make their essays stronger. Draft after draft, we will help bring out the essay’s strengths and rid it of its weaknesses. Good writing is grounded in revising. And we sure do revise essays with our students. Paragraph after paragraph. Draft after draft. Through this process, we don’t just help our students craft more compelling college essays. We make them better writers. They learn what good writing is and become more confident in their own writing abilities. And that’s one of the most satisfying parts of private college counseling.

While you’re here, check out this post on Mistakes in College Essays.


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