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Monday, September 3, 2012
The Art of Bragging
If you're a student currently embroiled in the admission-essay writing process, then you'll appreciate this missive from Paula Marantz Cohen-an English professor at Drexel University: "Why I Hate the College Application Essay: Should Bragging be a Prerequisite for College?". Students feeling disgruntled will find some vindication in her theory that the college admission essay is a complete waste of time.
And yet--for college hopefuls-avoiding the admission essay or protesting is not an option. Yes, like filing income taxes and waiting in line at the DMV, students must roll up their sleeves and attack the essay like the chore it is.
Cohen is right on about the tediousness of the standard essay. When colleges ask students to describe themselves, they can hardly expect a writer to lay bare their fallibilities. Honesty may be what colleges are asking for, but it isn't what they are going to get. Who's ever fully sincere at a job interview?
Most seventeen-year-olds haven't experienced much. It's just the nature of life. So they are forced to exaggerate mundane experiences or milk the life out of unfortunate ones. Every editor has read an essay that is either too arrogant or too maudlin. At seventeen, these things are hard to calibrate. But what do the admissions committees expect? As a general rule, most middle class American kids don't have a lot of compelling stories. So the two-week volunteer post in Nicaragua is central to their college resume.
Colleges could turn the tide in one sweeping gesture by changing the question. The more bizarre the better (If you could be any kind of tree, what kind would you be and why?). Force students to circumvent what has become an incredibly formulaic genre. Avoid making self-puffery an art form and allow them, as Cohen suggests, to evaluate the world around them.
After all, it is when we look outside of ourselves that we gain real perspective on the world. This is precisely what colleges are truly looking for.
Labels: The Art of Bragging
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