Book Review: On Writing The College Application Essay

On Writing the College Application Essay, by Harry Bauld
Paperback – 138 pages, August 1987, published by Barnes & Noble

This little college book is worth its weight in acceptance letters. It’s as fresh and pertinent today as it was back in 1987 when it first came out. Not many college books go through as many printings as this one has, which is some indication of its legendary status among high schoolers. The secret to Bauld’s success is that he takes some of his own writing medicine with the text of On Writing. There is humor, pathos, instruction, brevity, revelation, and intelligence here. It can be a one-night read, but you’ll want to savor it over and over as you build those critical writing samples that will populate your college applications.

Bauld’s humor shines through in his mini-play about two young admission staffers struggling with a mountain of mediocre applications and the inevitable sub-par essays. With each sarcastic comment, we get precious insights into how college gatekeepers think (Bauld is a former Ivy League admissions officer). Thus, through poking fun at these fictional essays, Bauld warns us of the perilous pitfalls. His treatise on topics to avoid will be shocking to many who have already planned their essay topics. Are you guilty of writing about “The Trip,” My Favorite Things,” or “Tales of My Success”? There are other bad topics too. You can also learn why this lead: “I do some of my best thinking in the bathroom” got its author into a top college. There are examples galore with critical commentaries by some of Bauld’s admission officer buddies. It’s a gold mine for essay writers and a true classic in the genre.

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On Writing the College Application Essay