Have you ever stopped to consider why some colleges require essays? For that matter, what’s up with the long and complicated applications that request pages of supporting materials? The simple answer is that colleges want to know, “who is this person asking to study on our campus?” I think that is a legitimate question to ask before inviting a teenager to eat, sleep and study alongside thousands of other students of their approximate age for a number of years.
When the number of applicants to a college meeting academic performance standards, exceeds the number of available seats by thousands; things other than grades and scores must be considered. Most families don’t stop to consider that colleges develop individual and unique cultures. To keep that culture intact, they must seek out applicants they believe will support that culture. Can you imagine visiting the campus at UT Austin and not seeing anyone wearing clothes with the longhorn insignia or flashing the hook’em horns sign or visiting Texas A&M and not hearing someone greet you with, “Howdy”. Every college has its own personality and it would be foolish to bring in a freshman class that cared nothing about the campus personality or traditions.
One very important thing to consider in addition to grades and scores for many colleges is the essay. This response to some random prompt is expected to give admissions committees insight into the student that no grade or score ever could. The problem is that most high school seniors do not communicate well in the written form. A big mistake seen over the years is overuse of the pronoun, “I”. This is the first indicator that the student is not telling the story of their experience in response to the prompt, they are sharing lecture notes. My advice is to limit the use of “I” to half the number of lines in the essay. It is difficult to give a lecture about yourself without using “I”. The desired outcome from this piece of advice is that the writer avoids telling the reader anything. The hope is that a story addressing the prompt will emerge that allows the reader to discover the desired information about the student as they read – without being told. This form of writing for the essay is both engaging and informative and will not happen if the student has an “I” problem.