Essays have been one of the most critical elements of college applications for decades, existing as a benchmark for creativity, intelligence, passion, and literary prowess. Yet college essays have come under scrutiny as a staple component of determining merit. Some have criticized the perceived insincerity present in their construction, while others have expressed frustration with the way in which an emphasis on essays disadvantages those whose strengths lie elsewhere. And though the ability to express oneself through their words is an invaluable skill, and despite the joy I find in crafting engaging pieces of writing, I feel that college essays do not currently serve their purpose.
There are a number of good reasons to include an essay section in a college application. This supplement is often an opportunity for a student to add a personal touch, and to make their application more than just a GPA and an ID number. There are those who are understandably worried about removing this part of the application process as it may close doors to those who best demonstrate their talents through their writing. But sadly, college essays have undergone an evolution from an oasis of creativity to a factory intent on producing committee-approved thesis statements.
Modern college applications have developed an unhealthy focus on a brand of writing that ignores the true spirit of having an essay section. Admissions offices are often looking for cookie cutter stories that emphasize supposed experiences of growth and change; rather than allow a focus on real-world issues or give students a chance to speak about something they have a personal passion for. Applications often demand a typeface mask speaking about how the author overcame a great challenge and what they learned from it. Furthermore, an unfortunate number of colleges use prompts with little real variation in their content, and while this may be great for the student that doesn`t want to write five different essays, it`s an example of the inherent problem with what is expected in the modern application process. We`ve turned our focus towards attention grabbing catchphrases stuffed into essays riddled with insincerity and truths stretched to their breaking point. Academia no longers asks for real experiences to be included in a student`s writing, but rather demands idealized tales of maturity and humility that don`t exist in a picturesque five paragraph format. The consequence of elevating the value of the college essay has been its homogenization, making it little more than a GPA with a word count.
I do understand that not all college essays suffer from the issues I`ve discussed. Some institutions have made serious efforts to retain the creative spirit of the essay section, and I don`t want to write off writing as a means to demonstrate one`s talents. Perhaps if higher education begins to acknowledge these problems and make reforms to the way this component is constructed and considered, it can once again fulfill its role as an opportunity for students to display their abilities in a more personal manner. But until we recognize that standardized prompts are a symptom of a systemic issue, college essays will continue to fail to serve their true purpose.