This thread was split from another thread.
Frankly, this thread alone, especially what the “pros” have written about the process, is a very persuasive argument for dropping the application essay altogether. Many of these essays were not written by the student alone, but were collaborative efforts involving family members, teachers, and paid and unpaid coaches. If we’re going to say that standardized tests aren’t “fair” because some kids can pay for expensive test prep, while others don’t have access to private coaching, then how much more so should we get rid of the essay, which can be ENTIRELY ghost-written by a pro, for a fee?
That being said, what happened at our house was this: Mom read a lot of NYT college admissions essays (there’s an annual column about essays having to do with money) and pointed out to kid how the best of them “showed”, rather than “told” something important about the writer. Kid tried a few ideas, none of which really felt right. Finally Dad (who just happens to be an English prof/teacher) said to kid, “What do you love in life? What makes you happy?” That triggered kid’s writing a pretty good essay about the connection between several things he loves doing, some academic, some not. We got helpful feedback from someone on CC, and from a friend of mine who is a professional editor. Kid got into a tippy-top school, although he has no idea whether the essay had anything to do with it. But most kids don’t have the (free) resources that my kid had access to! Some families buy it, some kids seek it out on their own, and many kids just write an essay and send it in. NOT a level playing field, for sure.
Over 40 years ago, my husband and I (and probably all of our classmates) wrote our own college admissions essays, and never showed them to anyone before we sent off our applications (which got us into top schools).
I think Canada has it right. Send in your grades and your test scores. No essays. No letters of recommendation. Meanwhile, US college admissions officers cannot help but be swayed by essays which may have NOTHING to do with the writing ability or the life experience or personality of the applicant, because the applicant may have had little to nothing to do with actually writing the essay!