Writing college essays is a soul-crushing experience.
I use the phrase “soul-crushing” a lot—almost always in hyperbole—but this isn’t one of those times.
Ever since I started the long grind of writing all of my supplemental essays for different colleges, I’ve gotten the nagging feeling that something is just plain wrong.
It was only after I had finished my essay for Colgate University that I realized what was causing that feeling.
Despite having sent six applications, I had not applied to a single school.
Sure, I had filled everything out and clicked “send,” but none of it was me.
When students write college essays, we mold ourselves this way and that like putty in a kid’s hands. We are who the admissions committees want us to be.
Of course, I’m not saying I ever lie on my supplements, but they’re definitely not the truth.
I start off with my basic self, edges sanded and extraneous parts stripped off so that colleges can get my qualities a la carte. In the end, they get what they order.
Sure, Oberlin, I really admire your diversity even though your student body is over 70 percent white and all very, very liberal. Why, of course Hamilton is a special school, despite offering what is basically an identical experience to every other liberal arts college on the East Coast.
I realize that the time an admissions officer can spend on an applicant is limited and that things need to be cut for the system to work. We all want to tell the complete truth, but sometimes that’s just not possible, and I get that.
However, it’s not that schools don’t have time for our life stories that upsets me. Rather, it’s something far worse.
Whitman College asked me to choose three words or phrases that describe me and write about them. The word limit? 250.
I was allowed 250 words to completely sum up who I am.
I know that admissions officers have a lot on their plates when it comes to reading, but for god’s sake, that’s fewer words than this column, and you’ve only been reading this for, what, 30 seconds max?
The fact is, when they ask a question like that, they’re getting a bare-bones, pandering piece of dreck—dreck that I’m ashamed to have written.
So that leaves us two possible explanations, both of which are equally upsetting. Either colleges are too dumb to realize that they get nothing out of these questions, or they do and they just. Don’t. Care.
Previously published in the print edition on Jan. 13, 2015.