Seniors should maintain integrity in their college essays

October 14, 2019 — by Anna Novoselov

College applications should reflect students’ own writing rather than that of counselors

Looking over the red suggestions covering the rough draft of one of my UC personal insight questions, I grimaced: I sounded like a self-congratulatory middle-aged man. The writing flowed eloquently, weaving complex words in intricate sentence structures while maintaining a clear and consistent structure. It sounded mature. It sounded insightful. But it just wasn’t me. 

Hoping to receive feedback on my most important essays, like the common app personal statement and the UC personal insight questions, I called a college tutor recommended by my mother’s friend, who offered to edit a couple paragraphs I had written to illustrate his services. I agreed and emailed him a preliminary draft of a UC essay.

In the PDF he sent back to me, he highlighted my need for better organization and a clearer response to the prompt, so I revised my essay taking that into consideration. Besides that, he included possible topic sentences for each paragraph and added specific phrases inside the text. 

But I didn’t want someone else to write my essays for me. I want colleges to accept me rather than a posed version compiled by someone else. As a result, I chose not to accept most of the revisions.

Writing the personal insight questions is arguably the most challenging part of college applications. The essays often require a style of narrative writing not emphasized in many schools. Students struggle to compel readers with vivid details without overdoing the flair as well as to attain a balance between staying humble and bragging, all the while adhering to the often limiting word counts.

The essays are one of the only components of college applications that allow admissions officers to personally connect with students. They showcase the applicants’ thought processes, illustrate their passions and convey significant life experiences, helping colleges distinguish between individuals who may have similar GPAs, SAT/ACT scores and extracurriculars. 

According to HuffPost, the weight placed on college essays differs among institutions, but most admissions officers perform a holistic review of the entire application, with the essays composing a critical part of the whole. When asked how important they are, most reviewers say that “it depends” or that “it’s complicated.” Many also say that the essays are their favorite parts of an application. 

While glowing essays alone won’t help a mediocre student get into Ivy League schools, they can certainly boost an application. Thus, it makes sense why anxious students revise them over and over again, trying to attain perfection.

I began working with a different college essay tutor, who offers me suggestions for how to improve and general comments, pointing out cliches and moments where I sounds “like a college informational brochure” or a “dramatic romance novel author.” Lessons are a conversation rather than a series of instructions.

Afterward, I revise my essays independently. Every sentence is my own and I decide how to structure my writing and what specific elements to emphasize. While they may not be perfect, at least they are my own voice.

Although college essays can certainly be stressful, students from families who are able to afford counseling should maintain integrity and submit their own writing, rather than something written and polished by experienced adults. 

The joy of being accepted to a college — or the pain of being rejected — would be more genuine as a result. 

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