Scenes from the Monkey House: The Problem of The College Essay

I assume that what I am about to speak to has been going on for some time, quite possibly my whole career.  Still, I never really focused on it until this year.  I don’t know if it qualifies as a “problem”, but I certainly think it qualifies as a symptom of something larger.  To wit, I am surprised by the amount of involvement that the members of our English department have with seniors as they write their college essays.

Perhaps it is my own experience that was unique.  I remember the hectic college application process relatively well, and I remember writing my personal statement on my own, editing it for clarity and obvious grammatical stupidity, and sending it squarely on its way to the institutions that I was universally accepted by.  This is the perspective I am coming from, and this is why I am surprised by the fact that the modern senior in my building, regardless of academic level, is giving their college essay to their English teachers for multiple rewrites.

At the most remedial level, I can understand the utility of this process.  As much as I might love some of the children who occupy such a plane of existence, very few of them have interesting things to say, or the linguistic tools with which to say them.  Since I began my anecdotal study, I have read essays about the virtues of Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson, student’s mundane best friends, and even a particularly notable essay about weekend trips to the “Laundry Mat”.  These essays are typically so syntactically wasted that one can definitely see the virtue in having a paid professional give them a one (or twice, or thrice) over before sending them on to University.

That noted, I can not understand at all why students at the AP-level feel a need to have their personal statements vetted by their teachers, and why any student who feels that they legitimately have something to say, would care one whit about what anyone else thinks about such statements, much less change their approach (or indeed, their entire essay!) because of it.

Maybe this is my own problem.  Maybe my own views about the integrity of the written word and the Darwinian process of applicant selection by worthwhile universities is such that mine is a niche perspective, well at odds with the modern student.  That could well be, but I would humbly suggest that even it that is the case, if you lack the ability to make a cogent statement about who you are, you might want to wait on the whole college education thing until you have lived enough to know yourself.

Am I wrong in my thinking?