I refuse to answer that question! The new (intimidating) college essay

On January 25, 2012, someone on the College Confidential discussion group posted this thread:

Did you ever dump a college from your list because of the type (or number) of essays?College Essay Writing

Responses flooded in, mostly from parents of students who had indeed given up on an application because they were intimidated by the essay questions, and many from the students themselves.  One woman’s daughter dropped three applications and added one that had easier essay requirements. One aunt reported that her nephews applied to one school only – Iowa State – because the school did not require essays. And another self-proclaimed lazy procrastinator chose her colleges based on the ease of their essay requirements.

Colleges dropped by students ran the gambit and were headed up by Wake Forest and U Chicago:  Barnard, Brown (2x), BU, Bryn Mawr, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, University of Chicago (8x), Claremont McKenna (3x), Columbia University (3x), CMC (2x), Cornell, University of Delaware, Duke, Elon, Georgetown, Grinnell (2x), Marquette Honors Program, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, MIT (2x), UNC (3x), Northwestern, Notre Dame (2x), NYU (2x), U Penn (3x), Princeton, Puget Sound, Rice (3x), Rutgers, Tufts (2x), Stanford (2x), Syracuse, UVA, Wake Forest (8x), and Yale (2x).

Why the aversion to unique essay topics?

I could rant about how students are lazy or haven’t received sufficient training in thinking for themselves or thinking creatively.  I could suggest that if our educational system did a better job on these fronts, and with teaching writing in general, students would not avoid writing essays that challenged them to invest time and thought.  I could also suggest that students don’t start their application process far enough ahead of time to ensure they have the time and attention for some uncommon essay questions.

All of those things might be true, but I am more interested in the schools’ logic behind asking unusual question such as “What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?” (U Chicago), “What is your favorite ride at the amusement park?  How does this reflect your approach to life?” (Emory University), “Imagine you have to wear a costume for a year of your life.  What would you pick and why?” (Brandeis University), and “What would you do with a free afternoon tomorrow?” (Yale).

Why the inclination toward unique essay topics?

Colleges may be showing themselves to be current with the times, as suggested in The new college-admission essay: Short and tweet(ish).  Some applications ask for short essay answers of 25 words, such as “My favorite thing about last Tuesday” (University of Maryland), perhaps catering to the Twitter generation.  Tufts, George Mason and the University of Dayton allow prospective students to submit a video essay instead of a written one.  Students might jump at the chance to communicate in ways that are spreading like wildfire in the world of social media.

The right fit

In the College Confidential discussion, most students reported that they dropped schools not simply because of the essay requirements but because there was an additional reason the school was not a good fit.  Some were not excited about their on-campus visit.  Some realized when they were asked why they wanted to attend a particular school that they had no good reason.  Conversely, some students reported taking on writing difficult essays because a school was their clear first choice.  Some loved writing the very same essays that sent other students away (Wake Forest and Chicago essays included).  And one student actually rejected a school (Wash U in St. Louis) because they did not ask a supplemental essay question!  He thought the school was trying to increase its U.S. News rankings by encouraging applications.  Not surprisingly, two other students applied to Wash U (as well as to many other schools – Dartmouth, Harvard, and William & Mary to name a few) because of the simplicity of their essay requirements.

Perhaps colleges like Wake Forest and U Chicago are shooting themselves in the foot.  Several anecdotes appeared in the College Confidential discussion about students who got accepted into one school with a simple application (Harvard, for instance) while they were still working on essays for another school.  Schools with longer or more complex essay requirements might be losing some qualified and motivated students in addition to the ones who just don’t care enough to jump through the hoops.

Yet for most schools, it appears that they are doing a good job of weeding out applicants.  If an Honors application intimidates you, that’s a very good sign that you are not meant to be in that program.  If an essay challenge makes you realize that you’re not up for that challenge, regardless of the reason, then that school has done you and itself a favor.  What a great strategy for winnowing down the number of applications to a pool of students who will face an extra challenge or two because they want so much to go to a particular school.

As one member of College Confidential, stated, “Frankly, there are too many well-rounded, excellent students applying to the best universities to distinguish a select few without asking stranger, creative questions. It’s there that you begin to see a student’s personality and that’s what gets you in.”


Are essay questions scaring you away from a school?  Maybe it’s time to get some help.  If you want to brainstorm with a professional about what you could write in response to some of these wacky questions, contact The Essay Expert.  We’ll be happy to help.

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In This Corner—Great Content

English: Logo of Headlines Today

Headlines Today logo

I seem to have sparked something of a debate by saying that you are likely to get more clicks with a great headline and mediocre content than with a dull headline and great content. Many people rightly mentioned that if the content were mediocre, people might be enticed to look with a great headline once; but they wouldn’t be fooled twice. Others said that it took both to get repeat readers.

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Logical Punctuation-To Be or Not To Be

Quotation marks

Quotation marks

Where Should I put my Quotation Marks? Slate Magazine and the Rise of “Logical Punctuation”.

Guest Post by the Essay Expert at http://theessayexpert.com/blog/2011/05/23/where-should-i-put-my-quotation-marks-slate-magazine-and-the-rise-of-logical-punctuation/

On May 12, 2011, not one, but TWO of my friends and colleagues pointed me toward an article in Slate Magazine entitled, “The Rise of Logical Punctuation”. In the article, author Ben Yagoda explores the nuances of where to place periods and commas within quotations (inside or outside the quotation marks?).  Not long ago, I wrote an article touching upon much the same topic:  The Quandary of Quotation Marks (“ “).  My conclusion was that the British are much more logical than we are in the U.S., following the rule that punctuation goes inside the quotation marks only when it is part of the quotation.  How simple is that?

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Learning Linkedin

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Linkedin logo

I have doing things with social media managing for about six months now and the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. This field is going to be one that will be dominated by experts, in fact it already is.

There are experts at SEO and ROI, experts on mobile commerce, marketing, email marketing, blogging, QR codes, word-of-mouth marketing, B2B, B2C, Facebook pages, Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin (they use the little i), WordPress, and on and on and on.

I am not an expert in anything. I just know a little about some things because I have researched for other people on them. Right now my interest is in Linkedin.

I am interested in it because of a part of a webinar I heard from Lewis Howes on how to use Linkedin. I didn’t get the whole webinar, but I got this point. Businesses looking for other businesses or people need to develop a strong presence on Linkedin.

So while I can’t attend Lewis’ full seminar, I can buy his book and so can you. Here is the book from Amazon.com:

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Raising Money for a Charity a Penny at a Time

Twenty years ago one Christmas I was very encouraged by the way our small town spread Christmas cheer. I have a Christmas tradition that I give something to baby Jesus for his birthday and it can’t be something easy to do or done once.

That Christmas I decided to keep the Christmas Spirit going in town all year long. I put Christmas Spirit jars in about 10 small stores and asked people to drop their spare change in the jar to do so.

Each month I went to each store, counted the pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters and occasional dollar. If the store was a grocery store, I bought flour, rice and beans there. If it wasn’t a grocery store, I used the money I collected and shopped at one of the Christmas jar stores. Then I took the food to either the Welfare Lady or the Food Pantry. Every month I sent out thank you notes with the amount that I had collected from each store. I kept records of each stores’ take and receipts from where I took the food, just in case Uncle Sam came calling.

At the end of the 13th month I stopped the collection. People had given over $500 in small change.

I have discovered something similar using Twitter. It’s a site called HelpAttack! Users can pledge an amount of money for each action they take on Twitter and then give it to their favorite nonprofits.

The staff of HelpAttack! have thousands of causes and you can find one for anything you feel strongly about. The coins are earned for certain actions you take in the HelpAttack! system, like signing up or giving to a certain kind of nonprofit. You will pay for your donations at the end of a cycle, usually a month, with either Visa or Mastercard credit cards. The minimum donation is $10.

Now my charity is in need and could use your help, but so could your favorite charity and here is a simple way to help out. After all ’tis the season and a good time to start your own holiday tradition. The website to check out is HelpAttack.com.

Books from Amazon.com that bring the Christmas spirit into your home include:

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