Before I get to the gist, a short preface: I hope that you followed my advice in the last prompt and did a considerable amount of writing before you arrived at this post. I say this because I think that it is important to write without having that inner, critical voice whispering negative asides to you. You should start the process by simply getting entire herds of words on the page without worrying too much about their quality. Start with quantity. This you will use as raw material, for we are far from done with this process. ‘Nuff said. On to the post.
Long ago, in a decade far away–specifically in 1986–the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd interviewed an Ivy League admissions officer named Harry Bauld. Bauld had worked at both Brown and Columbia universities before turning to teaching and writing. In this interview, and in the book which he wrote about the college essay, Bauld’s advice is still apt and shows just how little has changed since the 1980’s.
Bauld observes that the essay is most important for those in “the gray area.” He defines a student in this category as “not one whose academic numbers make you too easy to dismiss or too overwhelming to deny.” I would like to intervene here to point out that, given what the bell-shaped curve demonstrates, he is talking to the majority of well-prepared high school seniors, most of whom are not immediately disqualified by low GPA and test scores but who are not running valedictory laps, either.
So if you are not one of the top half dozen students in a good high school, Bauld is talking to you. And what he says is: exercise care. In fact, Bauld argues that the college admissions essay can be the “ultimate noose with which a 17-year-old can hang himself.” This post goes on to discuss in detail the kinds of essays that should be avoided and why, with examples.
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