The teenager who sits on a Queens rooftop at night to ponder her city; the Boston boy who sees in the condition of his mother’s feet, her sacrifices on the factory floor on his behalf; the wannabe comic honing his skills in comedy clubs, usually with mixed success; the mathematician trying to describe the beauty he sees in Mandelbrot sets—these are essays I still remember because each offered a distinctive insight into the specific experience of an individual teenage life.But even the exceptional essays play a role only within a broader narrative that encompasses all the academic and social choices a student made throughout high school.While students will not be let in on their SAT or ACT scores alone, for many selective colleges these results function at least as a simple “sorting hat” that divides the possible admits from the merely hopeful.
The essay is perhaps the most daunting part of college applications, alongside standardized tests.
SATs and essays essentially act as bookends to the admissions process.
While some decried the release of these “sacred texts” and the public mockery of their young writers, others pointed to the banality, absorption and self-aggrandizement of the published examples.
Admission officers at highly selective institutions like Columbia are well aware of the skill, social breadth and intellectual depth they can reasonably expect from some of the world’s highest performing students.
Inevitably, the more selective private institutions with their growing pools of high-performing applicants tend to review applications more holistically and, therefore, place the most emphasis on non-quantitative elements such as the personal statement.
Given the opaque but obviously significant role of personal essays in American applications, it is not surprising that a recent blog post that revealed essays written by students admitted to Columbia’s class of 2017 elicited the vitriolic response that it did.
Some counselors responded strongly to the new absence of an open-ended “topic of your choice,” while others sighed in relief on behalf of admission officers who will have fresh horizons of teenage angst to explore as questions change each year.
Many others, including me, have pointed out that the new questions are effectively asking students to address the same essential ideas, and perhaps that is a good thing.
Even this more specific adjective could incite further debate: Mexico also contains "United States" in its official title, as did Brazil until 1930.* Brazil, fascinatingly enough, is the exception to the broader Latin American rule, though the country has always remained largely independent of the Spanish-influenced narrative the majority of Latin America shares.
Brazilians, like Canadians, actually , the Spanglish take on "yankee" is also a commonly used label in Latin America -- in fact, Martí uses it in his essay -- and some Latin Americans present it as an alternative. S., however, would deem "yankee" an inadequate substitute, as it refers almost exclusively to the Northeast region--and is dated by the Civil War.