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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The Mission Trip Essay
It's not often that radio shows trot out specials on college admission, but this week I found one. The interview was with an admissions officer at a big university in the Southeast. He talked about the eye-rolling essays, the eye-catching essays, and the essays that are just well, bad.

Somewhere along that spectrum is a theme. One that shows up so often, the admissions officers gave it a nickname. The Mission Trip essay.

It's that essay about the kid who takes a trip with a charity-often a church group-usually to somewhere in Central America. The take-away is invariably a truism about how they expect the trip to be about giving of themselves, but are surprised at how much they get back.

I chuckled.

I've read this essay myself. A lot. There's usually also something in there about learning to recognize privilege. Many of these kids were raised in middle class America. They've never seen a kid living in a shack. It is revelatory for them. Sadly, for readers, it's a cliche.

The problem for today's crop of high school seniors is that the admissions-process hamster wheel has been spinning in overdrive for a few decades now. The essay that got someone into college 20 years ago, has now been done and re-done a million times over. All the while, the stakes for "getting in" have gotten higher.

Today's kids need new material, but it isn't really fair of us to expect them to have any. Sure, parents these days are pushing their college-bound teenagers into more and more application-padding activities. But as that becomes the norm, so too will the Mission Trip Essay.

Colleges can't really have it both ways. Seventeen-year-olds have limited repertories. The message from the colleges is that they have to be unique, they need to have good grades, good test scores, good extracurriculars, and insightful essays. Maybe the kids are simply doing the best they can.


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