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Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Looking Forward to a Few Good Essays
I don't recall whether it was high school or college or law school, but I do remember how I felt. My legs were heavy in my chair and my heart was racing. I tried to look stoic. Relaxed, even. The teacher was handing back graded essays.
I tried to gauge the faces of my classmates. Were they relieved? Unsurprised? Humiliated? Our professor was slapping the essays face down on each of our desks with a little too much force. Or maybe that was just my imagination.
I turned the corner of the essay over, in search of the scarlet letter. The memory again recedes.
Sometimes it was good news. Sometimes it was disappointing. But the teacher/professor's response was always the same. "I wanted these to be good. I really, really wanted you all to do well". Sure you did, I'd grumble inwardly. Sadist.
Now that I've been editing essays for over a decade, I get it. Every time I read a new one-especially by a young-high school student-I really want to like it. Really. I genuinely feel disappointed when I don't. It irritates me to have to critique them. I don't need it to be Pulitzer-Prize winning stuff. It just needs to be age-appropriately competent.
I'm assuming this is what admissions officers feel. Jaded, from reading too much mediocrity, for sure. But seriously craving some mind-blowing prose. Something hilarious, insightful, moving, clever, or genuinely unique.
I recently heard an admissions officer on an NPR show remark that about 1 out of every 20 essays he read was good. That's pretty pitiful. For all of us that hate standardized testing as a gauge of intellect and potential, it may be a good reminder of why colleges still rely so heavily on it as a measurement tool.
Just food for thought as you sit down at your keyboard.
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