Put Yourself In The Place Of The Admissions Officer For A Moment
As a member of the admissions board you are responsible for reading several hundred application essays each year, as you approach the admissions deadline. Seating is limited. You are faced with the reality that you need to reject most of the applicants in that stack of essays. Consciously or subconsciously you are looking for a reason to reject each candidate. When you need to turn down 65% of the applicants, you are going to automatically think that the applicant’s essay you are about to read is probably not going to get in.
Each essay you read includes a verbal reiteration of the candidates’ resume. The applicant may even have a broad statement about the state of the world and how the world should improve. It likely also includes a strong statement about why they will be an ideal candidate for the school.
You pick up the next essay and there again, you read what is essentially the same essay. Yes, it is from a different candidate, but it follows the same pattern and covers the same agenda.
As you continue to read through each of these essays, the process becomes tedious. The essays blend together. You look at the stack that you have read, and the stack that you still have to read. You start daydreaming about what you will do when you are done. Anything new on Netflix?
Now step out of that role for a moment. Think about this same pattern happening across all of academia – across all disciplines, and each admissions officers realizing that the personal essay really isn’t critical because they all sound the same. This may be the reason why so many schools are decreasing the number of words required for an application essay. Why prolong the pain when there is little benefit?
The problem here is that the candidates are treating the application essay like a job interview – one that the job applicant knows the questions ahead of time and simply reads responses. After the itnerviews, you know a few artificial details that have been scrubbed of any originality.
Think of the moment you first met your best friend. Prior to that point, they were strangers, and you didn’t feel any connection with them. There was a process you went through that brought the two of you together. As your friendship grows closer, you put off social norms and customs that keep others from knowing you intimately. As you grew and trusted each other, you felt comfortable sharing things honestly, without the fear of rejection or harsh judgment.
Drafting is the process of “writing through” different ideas and develop content for your application essay.
Now, imagine if your friend were on the admissions board of your preferred school, and you were going there for an informal, friendly introduction. The way you would prepare and the comfort level you would feel is likely far different than if your friend were not there.
Drafting is the process of shedding away those layers of impersonal, polite, scripted, often formal thoughts and ways of communicating and unearthing what’s real. We can discard those parts that are comfortable – in fact, we can forget about being comfortable or uncomfortable, and just be ourselves. The draft is your friend. You don’t have to be concerned about judgments. Stop trying to impress. Just write what happened. Write what you think, Write about what you don’t yet understand.
When you’re with your friend you free yourself up from having to impress them. They know you and accept you – and the relationship moves on toward something more meaningful. You can share ideas, fears, concerns, and things you’re looking forward to experiencing. You stop pretending to be someone else, and can comfortably discuss any topic that comes to mind. There’s a sense of friendly discourse that isn’t governed by a lot of careful editing.