The College Application Essay: Where’s The Quality?

Reading a student’s essay draft is the only distressing moment in my occupation as a college advisor. Very few are excellent (read: perfect grammar, flow of thought, and something worth reading), others a disaster (read: Have they ever written anything?), and most are mediocre (read: texting is the new religion).

Forget about writing for college. How about just writing a single paragraph where a single thought is developed?

The bar is getting lower.
Over the past ten years of reading such essays, I’ve noted a trend: students’ grades are either inflating, or the writing quality is getting worse, or both. I suspect the worst. So do many of my clients. One client told me recently that she is distressed enough about her 14-year-old’s communication skills that she wants to hire a private tutor.

Private tutor
This is a person who can help a student eliminate – I dream – reduce usage of the following words: “stuff,” “dunno,” “awesome,” “like,” or add your own icons of Awful Language Shorthand. A tutor can work directly with your student to teach basic writing skills.

Are you thinking I’m out of touch to even suggest the schools are not teaching basic writing skills? Some are, many aren’t. What’s your local high school doing to make sure your child is on the road to mastering good writing habits? Take a look at your student’s latest writing sample….
Note: My best student writers attend Ursuline Academy in Dedham, Massachusetts, and my worst writers attend a public high school that is rated one of the best high schools in the nation.
Parent Involvement
One thing that really impressed me with my client’s concern was her no-hesitation behavior to take away her child’s Facebook access. Teachers will tell you that many parents don’t care, that they leave it up to the teachers to do what a parent is supposed to do.

Parents will counter that the teachers don’t care. The blame game continues in a culture where victimhood is a sacred right and responsibility is someone else’s concern.

Facebook and other lovely instruments
I love Facebook. I use it to communicate with people I know who want to know what I’m doing. I’m happy to keep in touch with old and new friends, but I won’t establish permanent residence on Facebook.

Kids, if not supervised, will abuse Facebook and any other instrument that is distracting them from their little obligations, however they are defind.

What does every employer treasure in an employee? Good communication skills. What do I treasure in my wife, my sons, my clients, my friends and acquaintances? Good communication skills.

Before I sent my two sons off to college, this was my only advice: “I don’t care what you major in, but I want you to develop three skills: learn how to think, how to write, and how to speak.” It’s not too much to ask, but getting it in a culture of lower expectations and greater distractions is a daunting challenge. Finger-pointing doesn’t work, but taking the initiative does.

The solutions are out there. We need to start looking. I suspect my conscientious client with her 14-year-old started in front of a mirror.
To reduce the stress of college planning, here’s the video series you’ll absolutely love.

Please  offer your comments below.


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