What kinds of kids are going to the top schools?
The essay is probably more important now than when I applied for college. The essay back then was used to evaluate thinking and language skills. It’s apparently something far different now.
In another review of Andy’s book, Suzanne Fields is somewhat tongue-in-cheek about her hypothetical student who flubs the all-important essay:
When a school counselor told her to write about her feelings when she felt victimized, she could only tell about the time her mother made her take off her spike heels and skin-tight miniskirt she had found for the junior prom. Mother-daughter conflicts are so yesterday. Freud is definitely out.
So is patriotism, mainstream religion and heterosexuality. Although you’ll get no hard data on college essays that aced it with the admission committees, the odds are that the successful ones were submitted with titles such as “How I Found God and Became an Atheist,” or, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Hooking Up” — or, to impress the environmentalists, “Out to Sea on an Ice Floe Hugging an Endangered Polar Bear.” I’m exaggerating, but not by much.
Identity issues galvanize campus politics, and pop culture has replaced history, literature and philosophy as subjects in demand. At one college, Ferguson’s son had only three choices of topic for a mandatory writing class: “History of the 1960s,” TV’s “Mad Men,” and “Intro to Queer Theory.” Jonathan Swift couldn’t have improved on this if he were to write a contemporary trip for Gulliver. But who could define Swiftian? (Or identify Gulliver?)
But if you can’t fight ’em, join ’em. Kids raised on electronic media have little patience for the long read, and many of the tenured professors who came of age in the Age of Protest prefer to indoctrinate rather than instruct. This gives new meaning to the observation that “the child is father of the man.” (Who wrote that?) Who cares about the lyric when you can dub the words and slam the poetry?
I used to think of college as a place to learn to think and, plagiarizing from Matthew Arnold, to become acquainted with the best that has been said and thought in the world. Now it is where kids go to receive the received wisdom. The essay appears to help determine how advanced along this road the young person might already be.