College Admissions Book: Successful Essays

Paperback – 299 pages; Mentor Books

100 Successful College Application Essays has been around for a while. On the cover, under the two authors’ names is the additional phrase “With Members of the Staff of The Harvard Independent.” There’s that name again. I have to wonder if Mentor Books’ marketing department would have included that extra byline had those “members” been associated with The Bowling Green Independent. I guess we’ll never know.

I fancy myself as something of a connoisseur of application essays, having even written about them at great length in America’s Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer’s Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools (Princeton Review-Random House 2001). In light of that, I have to say that I wasn’t all that impressed with the “successful” essays presented in this book. Granted, some of the writers got into very prestigious colleges and the essays’ critical commentaries come from one college admissions director and a large group of prep school counselors and admissions staffers. I would have preferred the balance of reviewers to be more heavily weighted toward college admissions people, but that’s just me.

In my view, this collection of essays suffers in comparison to the examples proffered by Harry Bauld in his legendary On Writing the College Application Essay (Barnes and Noble Books, 1987). Bauld gives us the good and the bad. We can profit by seeing what and how not to write. Here, the authors’ approach is to guide by “successful” example only, a tact that can be risky. Why? Well, we don’t get to see some of the other supporting aspects of these writers’ applications. Obviously, they didn’t all get into their respective colleges on the weight of their essays.

Bauld, by comparison, shows us how even borderline candidates can strongly bolster their admission chances by carefully examining their lives and writing about seemingly innocuous issues. For example, Bauld rhapsodizes on the greatness of one student’s lead: “I do some of my best thinking in the bathroom.” Sheer poetry.

Another curious aspect of this book about “successful” essays is that some of the commentaries are less than laudatory. For example, one commentator notes about a Princetonian’s essay: “This essay is a nice one which [sic] unfortunately falls a little short. The topic is fun to read about, but the ending leaves a great deal to be desired. I am left with-what was the subject? Didn’t he have another paragraph?”

Hmm. Sounds like this applicant may have had some other things going for him. I have to wonder why the authors would have included an essay that elicited such a less-than-flattering comment from its reviewer.

To be fair, there are some good, even unique essays here with some appropriate critical analyses. However, this reviewer recommends that if you’re looking for the quickest and most fun way to get from Point A, where your writing is now, to Point B, producing a successful college application essay, get Bauld. To paraphrase Churchill, with Bauld, never has so much writing wisdom been packed into so few pages containing such enjoyment.

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