Today’s New York Times paper version includes an excerpt from their blog, The Choice, which deals with college admissions and financial aid. Bill McClintick, the president of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, and a long time high school college counselor and college admissions officer answers reader questions. Someone writes asking how to choose a good college application essay topic. After responding that students should not try to psych out what they think admissions officers want to hear, he instructs them NOT to write an essay about what they learned from their athletic, extracurricular or travel experiences. What? What other kinds of essay-worthy experiences has the typical 17 year old high school senior had? A student who is meaningfully involved in a varsity sport, or school drama productions, or Science Olympiad, or the community service club is probably spending at least 200 hours on that activity. They’re pouring themselves into it, and at the very least, learning important lessons about teamwork, coorperation, leadership, and diligence. If they don’t write about that, then what SHOULD they write about? Their thoughts on how to achieve world peace?
I get that reading those essays about getting up at 5 AM for swim practice might be boring for HIM. But I think it’s the student’s best, and maybe only, option.
I’ve read hundreds of medical and law school essays over the years. My advice to students is to “shine a light on something you’ve done,” never to write something creative, philosophical, or academic. For most students, the things they choose to devote themselves to say far more about them, and the kind of students and community members they will be, than anything else they could write about.