A crash course in college admissions

A crash course in college admissions

by Mary Ellen Collins

My brother has very nice, smart, talented kids for whom I would do anything. So once his triplets launch their college search process, I receive an important request.

No, I don't get to accompany them on scenic campus tours; nor do they seek my wise advice about life and what to major in. Two of the three want my last minute, professional editorial input on their application essays. (The third shares my plan-ahead genes and has submitted her essays weeks before the deadlines.)

Between the two of them, John and Emily have about a month left to write almost 40 essays for 15 schools. Their e-mails start arriving every few days.

I read their work, praise their stellar vocabularies, and remind them that you don't always have to use every word you know.

I point out misspellings, urge them to simplify, and try repeatedly to break their inexplicable attachment to the word, "thus." They laugh, agree (usually), say thanks, and tweak their prose.

Reading the kids' perspective on subjects ranging from moral decision-making to complex world issues boggles my mind. For one school's honors program, John has to write about the relationship among information, principles and values, and use examples from several academic disciplines to bolster his rationale.

Huh? I'm not sure I could answer that now, much less when I was 17.

I think back to the application I filled out for admission to my hometown college, where I'm pretty sure the only essay question was, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Even for the easy questions, like "Why do you think ABC program at XYZ University is a good fit for you?" my niece and nephew draw on resumes jam-packed with extracurricular leadership experience, internships, jobs, academic enrichment programs and cool community service projects.

I'm guessing I would be waaaaaay in the back of the pack if I had to apply to college today based on good grades, my four-year stint in the library club, and a ton of baby-sitting experience.

This little window into the 21st century admissions process makes me grateful that I already have college under my belt. And when John and Em start receiving acceptance letters and scholarships, I proudly give credit where it's due — to their brains, character, creativity and potential.

But I'm also secretly sure that if any of the admissions decisions came down to between one of them and someone else, the college folks went with the kid who didn't have a single "thus" in the application.

Mary Ellen Collins is a freelance writer who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., with her husband, John. When she’s not writing about things that drive her crazy, she reads, draws and frets about coming up with ideas for this column.

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