|By Amy from Morningside, Iowa on Friday, August 10, 2001 - 08:34 am: Edit|
What's the real story behind these essays? I'm a senior at a large school, have a 3.97 GPA, and scored a 32 on the ACT My reading score was 30. Will someone actually read my essay, and how do I know if it actually has any bearing on whether or not I'm accepted? Why do colleges ask for these at all, anyway? Don't they know we've been writing for several years in high school already? My English teacher's evaluation will tell the admissions office I'm a great writer.
|By David Hawsey on Friday, August 10, 2001 - 08:57 am: Edit|
Amy: Great questions! Here are a few realities about college essays.
At most smaller and medium-sized colleges, someone from the admissions office will most likely read your essay. At the largest universities, volunteers or part-time paid "readers" might look it over, and then rate it and report their opinion to the admissions officer assigned to your region of the country. Either way, it most likely will be read by a living, breathing human being rather than some computer program.
Now, what's the real value behind these things? It depends. The theory behind essays is that they give the admissions officer an idea of your basic writing skills, including sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. They'll also look for the components of a good essay: introduction, expansion on key points, and a closure paragraph that ties things up neatly.
More important, however, is that an essay provides one more piece of information that either validates or challenges consistency throughout your whole application package. This issue of consistency plays out in a number of ways.
First, if your essay is outstanding, your grades in English classes are great, your standardized test scores reveal high marks in verbal sections, and your English teacher's recommendation supports all the other evidence of your skills in this area, you're fine. Things are consistent, and you seem to be a stable, well-rounded student in terms of writing skills.
Second, your essay might be really great, but your verbal test score on the SAT might be low. As an admissions officer, I always pull out the teacher recommendation, the transcripts and anything else I can find to see if another measure of your aptitude is off-base. If only the test score is low, and you've taken the SAT one time, I may disregard the low verbal score. Take the test twice and get another low score on the verbal section and I will call you, and maybe your teacher to talk over possible challenges. It does not mean you won't be accepted, it means there's something there that we should talk about. Maybe you don't do well at writing under pressure. You may have a disability. It could be anything.
Third (and I see this quite often), your essay might be a disaster. Chock full of spelling mistakes, a few grammatical challenges, and a dangling participle here and there. And you wrote about your baby brother's antique teething ring when the application asked you to discuss a personal challenge you overcame, and how it has shaped your outlook on life. I go right for the teacher's recommendation, and find these words: "Amy is one of the best students I have seen in my 32 years of teaching English." OK. Let's check on that fact. I pull out your transcript and see three B's and two C's in the last two years in English, then two A's in your senior year. What's up with that track record???
See the point? Your essay gives strength to a consistently strong portfolio of success, or it give a strong warning that something is amiss.
Some colleges, like Albion College in Michigan, sponsor essay scholarships. Faculty in Speech Communications, English and other departments rate the essays and award up to $2,000 for an outstanding essay. That is, if you are accepted!
There are many more issues involving the essay, but let me share this: I have laughed at some, sincerely cried after reading others, and yes, I have sent some back with a request to rewrite it. Take your time, show us your best, and remove any doubt about your ability to express your thoughts clearly and consistently. For the next four years, it will seem like you'll be writing more than you'll be sleeping! You might as well get a head start at it and write a great essay!
|By Dave Berry (Daveb) on Monday, August 13, 2001 - 09:18 am: Edit|
Hi, Amy. We've reviewed some great essay books here on our site. Check out:
I think you'll find a lot of great info in these. Good luck!
|By Aimee on Sunday, September 16, 2001 - 09:12 am: Edit|
The essay books always tell you to have your parents or your english teacher look over your college application essays. Plus there are even professional essay helpers out there - including College Confidential, if I'm reading the Counseling Services section right.
I have never copied anyone's homework (or let anyone copy mine), cheated on a test, etc., and I want to be honest in my application essays, too. At the same time, I want to do the best essay I can. How do you draw the line? I would guess pointing out a typo or a dumb grammer mistake would be fine. But what about more editing - dropping or adding sentences, changing wording, etc.? When does this cross the line?
|By Dave Berry on Sunday, September 16, 2001 - 04:06 pm: Edit|
Aimee, I've worked with a lot of high schoolers' essays. I like to think of myself as a writing coach, much the same as, say, a batting coach in the major leagues. Where I draw the line is stepping into the batter's box. Only the student writer can swing the bat and, hopefully, hit the home run. I can help them improve their swing, though.
My main contribution is getting the writer to identify some particular aspect of him/herself that s/he can then reveal through the essays. The truth is that most high schoolers don't know how to perceive themselves. That is, they have difficulty grasping a vision of who they are. Therefore, they fail to convey that to the admissions readers who, in turn, end up seeing fine young men and women being potrayed by platitudes and vacuous inanities. (See Harry Bauld's list of approaches one shouldn't use for application essays.)
Lots of high-handed arguments rage on about essay help. Some shriek, "The applicant should get no help at all!" to which I reply, "Well, then, pull the applicant from English class, because s/he will be getting help with writing skills there!" There's just no accounting for some people's perspective.
Focus on the word "coach." A writing coach can effect a greatly improved essay without ever stepping into the "writer's" box. As long as the pen remains in your hands, you'll be ethically, morally, and technically fine and your essay(s) will be a "hit."
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