Recently, New York Times columnist Ron Leiber asked students to submit college admissions essays related to “money, class, working and the economy,” and was rewarded with 66 entries to comb through alongside Harry Bauld, the author of On Writing The College Application Essay. Together, the two men selected four essays they found both compelling and worthy of the risk taken when addressing what can often be a divisive and controversial issue. A student opening an essay with a line like “I wonder if Princeton should be poorer?” can be as shocking as a first date asking “Well, aren’t you going to pick up the bill?”
Still, these forays into hot-button issues like money, politics and religion can have marked impact and value if executed with grace, conviction and a little bit of humor. While the young lady who opened her Princeton essay with the query mentioned above did not gain admission into the school of her dreams, her risk still may have been in line with a wise strategy.
CEA’s advisors never encourage students to be provocative just for the sake of pushing buttons, but we always rally for students to express well-informed and impassioned opinions in lieu of having no opinions at all. When admissions officers select the members of the next incoming class, they look for men and women who will add spirited discourse to an always adapting, intellectual environment. It is important to use common sense, of course — denouncing God in an essay for Notre Dame might not be the best way to get yourself admitted, even if your agnosticism is deeply felt and well-argued. But exemplifying a willingness to express opinions that might be unpopular, and that are also true to your core values can be a powerful way to set yourself apart from a sea of milquetoast diatribes.