Get ready to hear about the outrageous essays I received for our University’s most competitive academic scholarship. These applications, keep in mind, are from the some of the brightest students in nearby high schools–valedictorians. And they left me thinking, “Holy cow, how the standards have dropped since I was in high school.”
Fortunately we don’t have an essay portion for our admission application, so the only essays we see are for scholarships. For the scholarship program that I head, we have anywhere from 30 to 60 applications. This week I got the joy of reading some gems.
The topic of the essay was broad; what are your plans and career aspirations for the future? I read no fewer than 10 essays that began in some variation of this:
“Ever since I was a young girl, people have asked me what I want to do when I grow up. My answer changed almost every year. I wanted to be a teacher, an astronaut, a doctor.” And so on. You know, I feel bad for these kids because they were just writing what they thought we want to hear, and I’m sure they thought their essays were original. Where are their counselors who should say, “Actually, I just had five other students in here last week who began their essays just like that for other scholarships. Let’s try something else.”?
The next common theme of the essays is that they use words that they don’t understand to make their essays sound more intelligent. Sorry, but you’re doing it wrong. Stick with the words you know. I guarantee they type their Word document and then right-click for every larger synonym they can find (Like, seriously, who uses a thesaurus anymore? – sarcasm). Sometimes, however, they accidentally choose the antonym. Whoops.
They also love to maximize cliches in their essays. They don’t stop at just one. They put two or three in one SENTENCE! These motivating phrases may seem like they’d be well-received, but please, just avoid ’em because your sentences turn out to sound quite foolish and look something like this:
“As I embark on my college journey, I intend for my high standards of success to guide me impeccably through my years of academia, making increasingly meaningful contributions at each rung on the ladder of success, and as I climb that ladder, I will stay true to my morals and amass experience and technical knowledge so I can leave the University better than it was when I arrived.”
There are many things about that outrageously long sentence that make me want to say, “Stop. Just stop. Go back into your high school cafeteria and repeat that sentence in words you would actually use. And while you’re at it, wipe the brown off your nose.”
And their grammar. Oh, their grammar! If they don’t know how to write complete sentences and avoid run-on sentences by the time they’re in high school, they shouldn’t have made it there. And if they haven’t mastered sentence structure, then it’s a guarantee they’ll haphazardly insert commas or just leave them out altogether. Also, stop ending your sentences with prepositions. Dangling modifiers, forget it!
Grammar aside, the most entertaining part of reading these essays is what the students actually write about despite the prompt we provide. In this year’s batch, we had two that were particularly intriguing.
One girl wrote about the two most influential people in her life: her mother and Steve Irwin and continued on about her passion for Tasmanian devils and their endangered status. She boasted that she hypothesized in the 6th grade that the common facial disease that affects the species is genetic. I admit that I was intrigued, but sweetie, follow the directions.
This next essay, though, takes the cake. Easily.
“Sashaying down the dimly lit street as my skintight black leggings hug my thighs, I shiver as I pull my hand out of my pocket to rub scarlet red lip gloss across my lips.”
WHAT KIND OF ESSAY IS THIS? I was scared to continue reading. In fact, I was starting to blush. The essay continues to describe a city woman dressed to the nines, ready to take on the world before there’s a twist! This woman is not the narrator. Oh, no. The narrator has abandoned this aspiration to be a b0mb shell and has instead made the immense decision to remain natural in her hair and makeup styling. And that’s it. Best of luck to you in all of your endeavors…
I definitely had a few good laughs as I read through the applications, and we did get a handful of excellent applications from outstanding students, but I genuinely am concerned about the quality of communication we may endure in the not-so-distant future. Lord help us. And the grammar of our youth.
Sometime between 2007 and now, high schools must have eliminated grammar from the curriculum. I know there’s been a big fuss recently about the common core. Well, does common core include language arts or writing? It doesn’t appear so in the scholarship essays I’ve been reading lately. Math and science are great, but if a high school student doesn’t know the difference between whether and weather and doesn’t have the sense to proofread a scholarship essay, then we should all be scared about how our businesses will be run in 20 years.
We all make grammar errors from time to time; some people more frequently than others, but there is no room for mistakes when you’re trying to sell yourself to a scholarship committee, especially for a prestigious academic scholarship. Students are missing out on the fundamentals of communication, and no matter what their jobs may be in the future, they will all have one common responsibility, and that is to communicate effectively. Right now, pretty many aren’t doing such a hot job of it.