[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published October 23, 2023] ©2023
If it’s fall, it’s time for pumpkin spice overload, an invasion of spider webs, lots of soccer games, and if you’re a high school senior, the dread college application process. Friends whose daughter is in the midst of applying to schools were bemoaning the process to us, knowing we have lived through it ourselves. It’s been quite a few years since our sons applied and I was curious to know if the essay topics had improved in the interim.
In a word: no.
Colleges always maintain that they want to know the “real” candidate but then hit them up with eye-glazing topics that are pretty much guaranteed to produce prose like "Team sports has taught me self-discipline and how to work with others" and "My trip to Europe made me realize that we are all one."
Of course, the Common Application has streamlined a lot of the work but it’s the essays that are still the biggest hurdle.
I remember my younger son, Henry, who applied to a lot of essay-intensive schools, approaching his step-father, a reactor physics graduate from Cal Tech, hoping someone of Olof’s erudite background could provide some retrospective insights into "What do you hope to achieve in your four years of college?" My husband pondered the question for a moment before offering, "Grow facial hair and get laid?" Henry perked up immediately at the prospect. But didn’t dare use it.
If college admissions officers want to get to know the “real” candidate, they’ve got to ask the right questions. Topics that kids can really become impassioned about and which might also give college essay readers a reason to live. Here’s a few I might suggest:
(1) Analyze the debris field on your bedroom floor. How does it reveal the real you?
(2) Agree or disagree: There is absolutely nothing new anyone can say about The Great Gatsby.
(3) Why texting, tweeting and other electronic communication should be allowed during class time, especially if the class is like, totally lame.
(4) My night in a Tijuana jail: A lesson in economics.
(5) What things do you do that drive your parents craziest? Describe how you've fine-tuned them over the years.
(6) Relate an incident where you were blamed for something that was so not your fault.
(7) Influences that shaped your life: were there any?
(8) Describe an evening with your favorite non-porn-star fictional character.
(9) The top three excuses parents are likely to believe.
(10) In 250 words or less, agree or disagree with this statement: people over 40 should not be allowed on social media.
(11) Curfew: why I am so over it.
(12) How ADHD explains my transcript, and that felony egging incident.
(13) College: Is it over-rated?
(14) Despite what they say, my parents really were born yesterday.
(15) What are the nicknames you and your siblings have for each other when no grownups are around? Regale us with the symbolism behind them.
(16) How to survive a totally bad hair day.
(17) iPhone apps I’d really like to see.
(18) Why I will totally be a better parent than mine are.
(19) Pole dancing as a varsity sport? Make your best case.
(20) Should watching the movie be an acceptable alternative to reading the assigned book so long as the ending is kind of the same?
(21) My favorite pharmaceutical and why.
(22) Compare and contrast your favorite awards shows.
(23) Like, whatever.
Olof, however, points out that like everyone else, college admission folks have to be careful what they wish for. Because if they ask any of these questions, they will surely get it.