But it's important to explore here.
Simply put, Goldman says, "Abolish the personal statement," the 250- to 500-word essay that will put so many incoming high school seniors into a frenzy this summer.
Using the essay as a tool to identify and admit poor students, Goldman argues, "is profoundly dishonest and
contributes to the collapse of public trust in higher education."
Writing on the blog Minding the Campus, Goldman, a GWU assistant professor of political science, argues that, in theory, college essays "allow admissions officers to get to know applicants as individuals rather than the sum of grades and test scores. In practice," he says, essays "are the basis of subjective and sometimes highly political judgments about the groups of students that an institution hopes to enroll.
Should college essays be abolished? Vote now in our poll.
Goldman doesn't hide his disdain for the college-essay requirement, at least as it now exists: "Although well intentioned, this duplicity only encourages doubts about the fairness of the admissions process."
Moreover, too many of today's applicants are getting too much outside help or revising their essays so many times "that the final versions are not very accurate reflections of their writing skills -- or even their own ideas," he says.
That, I believe, is Goldman's strongest point. Your college essay has to be you. It has to be your voice.
Over the many years I've been helping students with their essays, that's my common message: "This is your work and your voice, not mine."
The Internet is filled with countless services that will write essays "customized" to a student's activities, aspirations and hardships. But that's not his or her work and it's not his or her voice. When I help students polish, focus and fine-tune their essays, its still their work and, most importantly, their voice.
Where do I start? How in the world do I know what to do first? And the list goes on . . . the list of questions the incoming Senior Class is asking as they go into the critical summer of college-essay writing.
The last place to start is at your computer keyboard, according to Sharon Epstein, a writer, college-essay-writing and interview coach.
The first step is thinking -- about yourself and about the subjects you'll write about, advises Epstein, of First Impressions College Consulting.
Writing on the Hello Redding blog from Redding, CT, Epstein offers five things incoming seniors should do before they sit down to write:
- Ask yourself questions. "The idea is to figure out not only who you are and what good qualities you possess, but also how you see the world and what experiences led you there."
- Develop at least one answer for each of the five Common Application prompts. "It’s easy to stop at the first answer. Often, in fact, first answers only skim the surface, and when students dig deeper and explore more possibilities, they often discover more meaningful and unique responses."
- Stay loose. "This is the fun part. Shake it out and get creative . . . If you don’t push the boundaries you’ll never know how far you can go, and right now it’s the possibilities that count."
- "Keep yourself open to what’s going on in your life. The best topic may not have happened yet."
- Write down your ideas as they hit you. "Now is the time to record your thoughts and ideas so you don’t forget what you want to write about when you sit down at the keyboard."
This time of year, everyone in the Class of 2015 is grasping for just the right topic for their college essays. It's got to be something that hasn't been done and overdone. It's got to be something that will grab the interest of an admissions officer rather than put him or her to sleep. And it's got to be something that opens a window on the person behind the words.
Columnist Mary Bufe of the Webster-Kirkwood Times in Missouri thought she had the perfect topic for her daughter, Jane. It wasn't "Huiliation" or "My special gift," but "How I formed an important lifelong habit – and earned $1,000 – by keeping my room clean for an entire year."
"What happened next has the pathos, drama and feel-good ending of a first-rate college essay," Bufe wrote. "I had struck college essay gold and wanted to share the good news. I went up to Jane's room, opened the door – and gasped.
"In conclusion, she may need to tweak that title slightly."
I hope the agonizing process of picking your essay topic goes better . . . with or without your mom's help!
Arnie Rosenberg is the founder of The Center for Essay Excellence. He writes regularly about college essays and their importance to the college-admission process. Contact him at Arnie.Rosenberg.Editor@gmail.com.
© 2014 The Center for Essay Excellence