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Tell us about yourself.....

NightingaleNightingale Posts: 561Registered User Member
edited October 2007 in Parents Forum
We're at a loss. My D pours out four years of stuff onto an application, writes a "short answer" (150 words Common Ap.) writes an essay 250 word minimum and they want more. What MORE could a 17 year-old, any 17 year old, have to tell these colleges you about themselves. Chances are if they have accomplished something out of the ordinary, not mentioned on the application, than that is what the essay is about. I mean there is the Common Ap. the "college's supplement" which is additional and unique to the particular college. Than there is a supplement to the supplement in the form of, "Why to you want to attend our college?".. (150 word) question. Lastly there is the back breaking "Tell us something we don't know about you? question, or "How can we know you better?" question...How about reading the APPLICATION!!!!!
I just think so much of this is redundant. I mean really overkill. Most colleges don't even read your SAT or ACT essay... but they want you to write another one, two or three.Maybe it's me.. But these kids are so busy to begin with.. couldn't this process be easier?
Post edited by Nightingale on
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Replies to: Tell us about yourself.....

  • deb922deb922 Posts: 2,497Registered User Senior Member
    I'm with you. She's only 17, how much more can she tell. Besides my D is so busy this year with her EC's and school work that fitting essays in are so hard. She usually has not one activity after school but two. Add AP classes, a social life and trying to write essays and she just falls into bed at night.
  • mammallmammall Posts: 1,701- Senior Member
    I think some kids upload a resume or activity list into the additional info section.
  • corrangedcorranged Posts: 6,684Registered User Senior Member
    OK. Two main (and separate) issues going on here.

    Issue 1: There's nothing more to say.
    My D pours out four years of stuff onto an application, writes a "short answer" (150 words Common Ap.) writes an essay 250 word minimum and they want more. What MORE could a 17 year-old, any 17 year old, have to tell these colleges you about themselves.
    I'm with you. She's only 17, how much more can she tell.
    This idea strikes me as misguided, incorrect and almost insulting. First of all, the purpose of essays is not to communicate some extraordinary accomplishment. Besides evidence of creative, polished writing, colleges want essays in order to learn more about the applicant as a person. This movement toward holistic admissions is generally seen as a positive thing on this board (and in general). Colleges want to build a class of individuals, not a class of test scores. Further, they want to leave the process in part up to the student, so they give the applicant lots of blank space to speak about his or her experiences, history, and personality. The student has room to talk about what is important to her, and she gains control over how the admissions officers will see him as an applicant.

    Second, the notion that a person--even a 17 year old--can be completely summed up in an extra-curricular list and 400 words total is completely absurd. I'm 18, and I don't think there is a single facet of my personality, history, or experiences which can be entirely summed up in 400 words. People are by nature complex and layered. There is always more to say. A 17 year old has lived about 150,000 hours. I mean, I really can't even fathom how you could say that there's nothing left for a 17 year old to say about herself. It's demeaning that you think a teenager's life is so simple and straight forward that there's nothing interesting or important to explore. Further, the essay doesn't even need to be directly about the student; it can reflect on the student's life and beliefs without speaking about a particular experience. I'm going on about this in such a disjointed manner because I'm really just shocked and taken aback that parents could see their children as one dimensional enough to fit cleanly, perfectly, and completely into an EC form and a page worth of essays.

    Issue 2: The process is too long.
    I just think so much of this is redundant. I mean really overkill. [...] But these kids are so busy to begin with.. couldn't this process be easier?
    Besides my D is so busy this year with her EC's and school work that fitting essays in are so hard. She usually has not one activity after school but two. Add AP classes, a social life and trying to write essays and she just falls into bed at night.
    This is a very different issue. There are reasons on each side of the fence. As I briefly outlined above, the essays aid in a holistic admissions practice, which is what most CC parents and others tend to want. Instead of Harvard taking only the students with 2400/36 and the highest number of APs, they look at essays and activities and recommendation forms to try to get to know each applicant and make decisions based on more complete knowledge that goes beyond strict academic measurements. It's more work and money for the admissions office, too, remember. So, yes, Nightingale, the process could be a lot easier because each college could just create a formula and take the students with the highest SAT, GPA, rank, and AP score combination and be done with it, but is that what you really want? Application processes are difficult and time consuming. All application processes are, for special majors, jobs, student clubs, leadership positions, scholarships, or anything else. There is time to do it. Consider the college list and cut down if necessary. Consider class and EC schedule and cut down if necessary. Consider taking an afternoon off from the mall to work on essays. Maybe the process is too long, maybe it isn't. What we do know is that thee college application process is important, and there are ways to get it done.

    Finally, if it's an optional additional information section, then it actually is optional. You can leave it blank.
  • jmmomjmmom Posts: 9,081Registered User Senior Member
    Oh, boy. This hits a nerve. I am *so* glad to be beyond the process, because I felt very much as the OP does.

    Let's say that corranged is correct - and I think the points in post #4 are very well taken. So, let's say we all agree that a holistic process is a good one (we don't all agree, but let's just *say* we do ;) ) - a process where they get to *know* the real kid via a few essays.

    All righty then. Could we let the kid just write 2-3 essays? One long and polished on a topic of their choice or choice from 3-5 prompts ala Common App. One short about most important EC and why. One more - do we really need one more?

    I could live with that. But then each school gets so enamored of its own personal favorite prompts... Tell us an issue of importance to you and how you approach it; how would you spend a day if you had $10, where would you go and with whom; compare yourself to a jar of mustard.....

    Why do they have to make these kids jump through such hoops?

    If my kid wrote two great essays that revealed himself and sent them to all 4 or 6 or 10 schools.... Well, if they wanted to "get to know him", there they'd have it.

    But N-O-O-OOO....

    *end of rant*
  • edadedad Posts: 2,584Registered User Senior Member
    Corr, I agree 100%.
    Adcoms want to learn something about the maturity, motivations, aspirations, interests, and to use the overworked word, passions of the applicant. No wonder they give the applicant every opportunity to express themselves. Sure most of the questions and suggested topics are open ended and often vague. They usually fall into the categories of what will you bring, why do you want to attend our school and who are you. These short answer, supplemental questions are usually extremely important. They need not take a long time to complete. My D worked and reworked her primary common app essays. When she was done I thought they were not very interesting and revealed little of her personality. She was fairly quick and spontaneous for the short essays and I firmly believe it was those essays which resulted in her admission to her reach schools.

    My D did not have any shortage of topics to write about. For one of her best essays she wrote about an incident that occurred when she was 3 years old. She discussed that awareness and how it affected her thinking and interests. For the first half of senior year she was doing 20 hours/week of ECs and still had time for the applications including the essays.

    Nightingale, you should not be at a loss. It is your D who needs to be willing to let her personality show through and who needs to spend that time to make that happen.
  • corrangedcorranged Posts: 6,684Registered User Senior Member
    Jmmom, again, you're moving onto a different issue of common application versus individual applications. I applied to seven colleges. One school accepted the common app (which meant, of course, that it wasn't "common" at all for me). I wrote three full essays and numerous short answers. One essay I actually had written for class, and I submitted it as a supplemental to one school. I'm a musician, and the essay was about playing for my favorite client. The second essay I submitted to every school as their required essay. I changed the title, sometimes the last sentence, and sometimes the last paragraph depending on the school and the prompt. In general, it was a reflection on an experience I had had in the fourth grade. In its best form, it questioned the value and importance of truth in storytelling. (I brought up the possibility that the second grade story wasn't actually true, looked at alternatives, briefly discussed whether it actually mattered, and left vague which version of the story--if any--was "true.") Yes, I used it for the University of Chicago. I changed the title and a few words to make it fit a prompt, though I could have submitted it under the "free" option #5. The third essay I wrote was the $10 essay for Johns Hopkins, which is optional, by the way. I decided the night before the application was due to try to write the essay, and 30 minutes later I had an essay that I was (surprisingly) quite happy with. You can use the same essay, or an altered version of it, for the vast majority of schools and have it fit the prompt. You just need to look at the question from a broad and creative standpoint. This is especially important for very slow writers. In general, though, essay writing doesn't need to take very long. My 30 minute essay is definitely on the short side, but spending 30 minutes thinking about or writing an essay a couple of days every week should be a manageable time commitment. If it's not, the kid is overworked, overbooked, and probably overtired and has more problems than college essays.

    Schools have different reasons for requiring their own essays. Some colleges really value the answer to a particular question, such as the Why Us? question, and want that information when evaluating applicants. Other schools (the U of C historically falls into this category) want to filter out applicants who are not serious about the school or who may not be a good fit for the school. They do this through non-traditional and/or demanding essay prompts that "casual applicants" would likely balk at. Some schools (such as JHU) find the answers to some specific question to be enlightening about their applicants, and they have found great success with the question, so they keep it. Many other schools find that the common application questions are satisfy their admissions process and goals just fine. There was one college I hated the essay prompts for, so I chose not to apply. If you feel very positive about the school, you'll spend the time to write their essay. If you don't, you don't need to apply.

    It's not unreasonable to expect different institutions to want some different information. I don't use the same cover letter for every job I apply for because every company is different, and my job within every company would be different. Instead I spend a good deal of time tailoring a cover letter, my resume, and anything else for that specific position at that specific company. It shows that I really want that particular job, and it gives the company a good opportunity to see if I'm a good fit for it. I could send a generic cover letter and resume to drastically different companies, but I wouldn't be communicating myself correctly for all of them, and they wouldn't get all the information they want or need from me. Yes, it's time consuming to alter my cover letter for every job, but I feel better knowing that I'm selling myself correctly for that specific company, and I'm sure they feel better getting the information that's relevant for them.
  • edadedad Posts: 2,584Registered User Senior Member
    There are two recent threads in the Parent's forum that are worth considering.

    One was started by a mom concerned about her son, who is not living up to expectations. Apparently the S is very bright and had high stats and many accomplishments in HS. Now after several years, he is just coasting through college. He is just not taking advantage of the full ride award at a very selective college. Most highly selective colleges would view that as an admission error. They would prefer to accept and support a less capable student but one with fire and determination to learn and succeed.

    The second thread, is one of those long endless threads discussing why some top students are not offered admission. The reason is the same. Very selective schools are looking for very special students and that is not always reflected in the stats or lists of EC's.

    We may not think that essays are good tools for assessment. We may have little faith in the ability of Adcoms to make good decisions, but the goals of the process are clear. Corranged is right - the employment process is often similar. There is more to getting a job that just raw data. Success depends on the ability to communicate and relate to others. Whether it is an adcom or a potential employer, the advantage goes to the applicant who we believe we know and can relate to. Maybe that is too much for most 17 year olds. Then again, very selective schools have plenty of applicants and they do not need to settle for what most have to offer.
  • bethievtbethievt Posts: 6,748Registered User Senior Member
    I think the essays say a lot. They say that the student can write well and think well. The choice of topic must be illuminating in itself. My son wrote his CA essay in one evening to use for his NMF application. For his short answer he fleshed our something he had written for a college visit. The "Why Us" essay that most of his schools wanted as a supplement, he wrote once and then tweaked for the other schools. If you have a consistent list, that isn't so hard. Four of the 10 schools wanted something different. He left these schools until the last and if he'd burnt out, he could have just stopped there.

    The great thing about his essays were the window they provided into his thoughts, his "world view" and his values. A laundry list of classes and EC's--that could be anyone. The voice in his essays was his alone.
  • tli83tli83 Posts: 237Registered User Junior Member
    I think it really depends on how you view the purpose of the 'tell us more about yourself' questions. I never saw them as a way to reiterate how many hours a week I spend practicing the violin, I saw them as a chance to speak in my own voice, unencumbered by having to fit a specific prompt or the need to list particular activities. They allow you to connect with the person reading your application form, to talk about who you are, not just what you have done. You can be funny, or profound, or passionate, talk about the smallest event in your life, or your whole world view.

    Of course some people do need or want the space to talk more about something important that they have done or experienced, and it is a strength of the question that those people have that opportunity as well, but personally, I began one of those types of essay with the phrase "When I am alone, I wear spangled apple barrettes and address the world as 'dollface'" Surpisingly, I had not been able to convey that little bit of information anywhere else on the form, but it, and what I followed it with, says just as much about who I am as the number of AP classes I took and whether or not I enjoy recreational tennis, both of which we are given ample space to mention.

    I don't think it is asking too much to have several essays. Of course, I enjoy writing and am immeasurably complex and fascinating, but even so, we're only talking about a maximum of about 1000 words in total to try to tell someone who doesn't know you and who has never met you everything you want them to know so that they can make an important decision affecting your life. I've probably written half that just in this post. And as others have mentioned, if you really are so short of time or so burdened by these essays, there is usually some degree of recycling that can be done from other essays and other supplements, if that is what you want to do.
  • NightingaleNightingale Posts: 561Registered User Member
    Coarranged- First of all don't put words in my mouth. I never said teenagers don't lead interesting lives. And you're right essays are important. So if a student takes the ACT, and/or SAT twice, or even three times why don't the colleges read those essays? My understanding is they do not. I mean there is a golden oppurtunity to pour through four to six, or more essays, written on varying topics... yet apparently they can't be bothered. The only exception may be for potential journalism majors. If you read books about subjects for college essays they basically tell kids not to write about "cliche" type things that happen to them. You know the death of a grandparent, being cut from the soccer team, breaking up with your girlfriend, summer vacation.... and so on. Reason; because what has happened to you as a teenager has probably happened to many, many, other teenagers and the adcoms get sick of reading that stuff. I don't know a lot of kids remember enough about what happened to them at 3 years old to turn it into a 500 word essay. That is outstanding recall! Also as far as the "Why did you chose to apply to our college?" If all an applicant is giving them is a rehashed answer given to each and every single college they apply to .. what is the point? Also if essay writting is so important in the process why do most colleges not include the writing score (essay score) when determing who gets merit money. Most of the sites I visit reference the verbal and math score off the SAT.. nothing else. The ACT score mentioned is the overall score, so maybe the essay is not completely excluded there, maybe. Lastly how do you think most colleges would feel if they knew they were getting nothing more than the same essay you'd given to five different colleges with just a sentence or two changed. I mean if the school is worth applying to isn't it worth writting an original essay for? Obviuosly the proccess must have been easier for you if you just edited the same essay (or two) over and over again. My point is that there is an essay on the Common Ap. and a short answer (250) words. There are essays on all the SATs and ACT test. Does a kid really need to write another 10-12 essays, short and long, just for the application process. IMHO it is overkill.
  • unaloveunalove Posts: 3,725Registered User Senior Member
    I think colleges are aware that essays are used and recycled, and I don't think they have a problem with that. However, most want to differentiate themselves in some respect, which I think is entirely fair. Without supplements, there is nothing stopping somebody with a lot of money from applying to as many schools as he or she can put stamps on envelopes for. Colleges want students who want to attend, not students who just slip something in the mail. (I think corranged's analogy to hiring for jobs is a good one).

    Supplementals help make or break admissions decisions. I have a friend who was a snowball's chance in hell for Hopkins, but the $10 essay allowed him to show his humor, creativity and zaniness. Hopkins was the only Top 30 school to admit him. Another was told that the reason he won a merit scholarship was because of his supplemental essays.

    I don't blame colleges for wanting to know more about their applicants-- if they ask for too much writing, they get fewer applications, which they're not crazy about either. Chicago's application has that open option for a reason, I think.
  • mimk6mimk6 Posts: 4,118Registered User Senior Member
    I don't mind "tell us about yourself." I don't mind general topics. I do mind when a college creates an essay topic that can't be used for another school and that asks a question like "if a fashion designer designed an outfit for you, what would it be like?" That prompt requires its own essay and when a school (as some do) has a few prompts like that, it forces the applicant to expend a lot of extra energy trying to figure out what they are really asking in the first place. Many common app schools have supplements with additional essays. If one school decides to require several essays that are completely off the beaten track, it takes away from what the student can give. There are only so many hours in a day and a good essay takes several drafts and rewrites. I think a prompt should be straightforward and be something that can perhaps be used at another school. I see no reason to make things harder than they already are.
  • corrangedcorranged Posts: 6,684Registered User Senior Member
    Coarranged [sic] - First of all don't put words in my mouth. I never said teenagers don't lead interesting lives.
    No, you didn't. You asked what more a seventeen year old could say about herself outside of the 400 words required. This very clearly implies that the student has nothing to say either due to lack of creativity, thought, and reflection, or due to the fact that there is actually nothing left to say.
    So if a student takes the ACT, and/or SAT twice, or even three times why don't the colleges read those essays? My understanding is they do not. I mean there is a golden oppurtunity to pour through four to six, or more essays, written on varying topics... yet apparently they can't be bothered.
    Most colleges do not evaluate those essays. I believe there are several reasons for this. First of all, the writing section with essays is relatively new, so schools haven't had this to work with in the past. They established their admissions guidelines and system before the essay section existed (though many top schools required the then SAT II in Writing) and, if the system worked, may not have seen any reason to change. More importantly, the SAT essay is a very poor example of writing quality. The vast majority of college writing is the polished sort; few professors have in-class essay writing. Therefore, it makes sense that colleges would value essays that students have had the chance to think carefully about and work on as opposed to something they whipped up on the spot in 20 minutes. They are two very different types of writing, and most colleges value thought out essays over impromptu ones. A substitution of one for the other would not make sense. The essays are also much less likely to shed important personal information on the student. Though some students may use personal experience in the SAT essay, it is not required. These essays are not always personal essays. Again, a substitution would not make sense. They are two different monsters. Finally, I believe colleges must purchase SAT essays from the College Board. This would increase the cost of running admissions and would likely result in undesirable cuts in other areas.
    If you read books about subjects for college essays they basically tell kids not to write about "cliche" type things that happen to them. You know the death of a grandparent, being cut from the soccer team, breaking up with your girlfriend, summer vacation.... and so on. Reason; because what has happened to you as a teenager has probably happened to many, many, other teenagers and the adcoms get sick of reading that stuff.
    I don't read books about college admissions essays, and I have no idea what advice they give or how accurate it is. My take is that an ordinary essay topic done well is better than a unique essay topic done poorly. It's not the topic that matters as much as the writing and the thought in the essay as a whole. Wonderful essays can be written about grandparents, and boring, tried essays can be written about grandparents. Good writing can make the ordinary into something more by injecting thought, humor, reflection, or something else. If it's an ordinary essay topic done in an ordinary way, then admissions counselors will probably end up thinking you're an ordinary person. If it's an ordinary essay topic handled in an extraordinary way, then they'll end up with a much different view. It's the essay, not the topic, that really matters.
    Also as far as the "Why did you chose to apply to our college?" If all an applicant is giving them is a rehashed answer given to each and every single college they apply to .. what is the point?
    Colleges recognize that most students can be happy at any number of places. A similar "Why Us?" essay submitted to similar schools is very plausible. Much of the essay will be spent talking about "you" and not "us" anyway. The point is that a generic answer to that question, one that doesn't fit the school or misses something major, is a red flag. The same Why? essay can probably not be submitted to Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth because they are three different schools in many major ways. A similar essay, though, can probably be used for Dartmouth and Middlebury or Boston College and Holy Cross or Columbia and the University of Chicago. You wouldn't use the same essay for all six of those, though.
    Also if essay writting is so important in the process why do most colleges not include the writing score (essay score) when determing who gets merit money. Most of the sites I visit reference the verbal and math score off the SAT.. nothing else.
    See my first answer: they are two very different types of essay writing, and colleges tend to value thought out essays over SAT essays. I think there are several reasons why many schools or scholarship organizations don't use the writing score. First of all, it's a new section, so numbers and statistics given out by schools that reflect numbers over time may have simply not incorporated the writing score into their statistics yet. Also because it's a new section, many colleges/organizations are waiting to see whether the SAT writing section reflects anything worth seeing. Most of the writing section is grammar. Grammar reflects wealth, region, and educational opportunities far more than ability or intelligence, so colleges may not see that the overall score tells them anything very important. Additionally, I believe an MIT study showed that the essay score could be predicted based on essay length and maybe some other characteristic. This is not what determines a good essay in college, so again colleges may not think the score is very telling.
    Lastly how do you think most colleges would feel if they knew they were getting nothing more than the same essay you'd given to five different colleges with just a sentence or two changed. I mean if the school is worth applying to isn't it worth writting an original essay for?
    I would guess that all of my colleges, with the exception of the University of Chicago, suspected that I used the essay for other schools. Colleges know that students do this. A school is not worth applying to if you wouldn't write a new essay for it, regardless of whether or not you actually do. I could use the same essay for every school very easily, so I did. If the essay didn't work for a school, I would have written a new essay for them. I looked at the prompts in a broad fashion, and I felt flexible with the many directions my essay could go in, so it wasn't very difficult to fool around with it for individual schools.
    Obviuosly the proccess must have been easier for you if you just edited the same essay (or two) over and over again. My point is that there is an essay on the Common Ap. and a short answer (250) words. There are essays on all the SATs and ACT test. Does a kid really need to write another 10-12 essays, short and long, just for the application process.
    No, the kid doesn't have to. With a well-chosen list, I can't imagine a student needing to write 10-12 completely new essays. The "Why Us?" essay can have the same general outline and set-up for most schools, if it's tweaked well for the individual schools. A good essay can be written that can work for most schools (but the student should feel comfortable writing new essays if the standard essay doesn't fit a particular prompt well).
  • edadedad Posts: 2,584Registered User Senior Member
    Nightingale, et al: I do understand your perspective. You seem to view the college application process as an annoying chore which should be simplified. I think you are missing the goals of the process. One goal is to find students who fit the college. Students with similar stats and EC's can be very different. The same is true of colleges. Colleges which on the surface appear similar often have very different cultures and provide very different sorts of experiences. In the era of the common app and online applications, it is already too easy for applicants to hit the send button and apply to 20, 30, or more institutions. The unique, supplemental questions help to weed out some of those applications and, hopefully, allow the Adcoms to concentrate on those students who have done some research and put some thought into selecting colleges.

    Venting about the application process may make you feel better, but some of us have little sympathy. Talk with any parent or student who has applied to programs for design, musical theater, dance, or music. The stress and effort required to select programs, apply, prepare, and audition are a few orders of magnitude more time consuming and difficult than what you and your D will experience. My D did double degree applications for academics and conservatory level music. You just have no idea. By comparison, whining about a few extra short essays, seems pathetic.
  • dmd77dmd77 Posts: 7,756Registered User Senior Member
    Some of the application questions don't really need to be polished essays. They really just want to know the answers and they can be just a few sentences (although grammar and spelling are ALWAYS important). When my D applied to Reed, her answer to "why Reed?" was that she'd liked the cat in the admission office, the cat in campus security, the cats in the dorms... that the cats had made her see Reed as a potential home, above and beyond the academics.

    And my son's answer to "why MIT?" was pretty much the same: because he'd visited the Media Lab when he was 12 and wanted to go to MIT ever since.
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