Your child’s essay is probably bad. You might just not recognize this. American high school students just can’t write. And international applicants are even worse in this department (photo credit: Yeungb).
Curious to know what bad college essays look like? Pick any college essay at random submitted to a college — even the highly selective ones — and there’s a great chance that you’ll pull out a bad essay. And why’s that? Because high school students just plain can’t write. It’s a conclusion we came to years ago, one reinforced over the last several years. In fact, in all of our years helping students with their college admissions essays, we can remember one (one!) essay that was actually great before we started helping with revisions. The writing of American high school students (and the international applicants are way worse!) is, quite frankly, horrible.
While the entrant says she enjoys the Bad Writing Contest, shes fearful her career prospects would suffer were she to be identified as hostile to the turn by English departments toward movies and soap operas. We quite understand: these days the worst writers in universities are English professors who ignore the canon in order to apply tepid, vaguely Marxist gobbledygook to popular culture. Young academics whod like a career had best go along.
Still, prolixity is often a feature of bad writing, as demonstrated by our next winner, a passage submitted by Mindy Michels, a graduate anthropology student at the American University in Washington, D.C. Its written by Stephen Tyler, and appears in , edited (it says) by James Clifford and George E. Marcus (University of California Press, 1986). Of what he calls post-modern ethnography, Professor Tyler says:
The Bad Writing Contest attempts to locate the ugliest, most stylistically awful passage found in a scholarly book or article published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies: entries must be non-ironic, from actual serious academic journals or books. In a field where unintended self-parody is so widespread, deliberate send-ups are hardly necessary.
This is not to say that much of the writing we would consider bad is necessarily incompetent. Graduate students and young scholars please note: many of the writers represented have worked years to attain their styles and they have been rewarded with publication in books and journal articles. In fact, if they werent published, we wouldnt have them for our contest. That these passages constitute bad writing is merely our opinion; it is arguable that anyone wanting to pursue an academic career should assiduously imitate such styles as are represented here. These are your role models.
no really…. i want to know.. is it just the “freshness” that they are lacking..?? i thought they are not crisp either.. i feel sorry for the folks who wrote these for using such words for their works.. but i am myself a terrible writer.. had i attempted to write an essay, i am dead sure it would have come out even worse… i am just trying to draw a line between an articulate and a bad piece of writing…
But perhaps the most annoying of all bad student essays, while not the most reprehensible, is the Bad Essay by the Talented Student. In exam conditions, this will appear in the psychotic handwriting which the young person sees as a badge of his or her genius. It will be peppered with personal anecdotes and/or quotes from texts not on the course, demonstrating that literature, for this student, has broken its academic banks and connected with his/her life – worse still, that the student . These are the essays in which a literary ambition, on the part of the essay-writer, is clearer than their level-headed appraisal of the writers under discussion. There will be weird rhetorical flourishes, puns, jokes and parenthetical remarks. Unfortunately, given the present-day opportunities to stay in education until advanced age, the writers of these essays will go on to do postgraduate work, during which time no one will be able to figure out what they’re so about. This mystery will remain unsolved until the student starts teaching and marking essays him/herself. At this point, the real danger of prolonged education becomes clear: eventually student-teachers are confronted by the fact that not everyone thinks the same way they do. Marking essays disrupts the necessary autism with which angry students construct all readers in their own image as the exemplary reader/writer, and with which they massively inflate the value of their own project. For not only do others hold contrary opinions, they don’t . There’s just two or three weirdly angry people in the class ready to start the process all over again. In fact what you really learn is that you can’t really teach anyone at all: some teach themselves, the rest just ignore you.
Let’s give our readers an example of some bad college essay writing. Here is a sample paragraph from an essay. Tell us what you think is wrong with it in the Comments section below: Winning the race was a really big accomplishment for me. It made me really proud to stand on the podium and wave to the crowd, surrounded by so many people I love. I’ll never forget that moment. I’ll never forget that win. It taught me so many valuable life lessons about never giving up and about what it takes to succeed. In this way, sports symbolize life.
I'd like to argue that Giraldi's review is, in fact, quite nasty, and that mine is less so. And that my other negative reviews over the past few years aren't nasty at all, even when they're highly critical of their subjects. There is a good way to write a bad review of another writer, and I don't think Giraldi is doing it. Whatever the shortcomings of Ohlin's work might be, his review does its reader a disservice -- his glee at eviscerating Ohlin overshadows his analysis, and casts doubt on its veracity. It isn't trustworthy, which makes it no more valuable than the kind of swooning puff pieces most critics write.
The personal statement is extremely important in gaining admittance to graduate and professional schools. Although it can be frustrating to write an original and well-devised statement, through time and drafts it will be written. The ones that are good take time. The ones that are bad can sabotage your chances for success. It is also important that you show your drafts to a Writing Center tutor, your academic advisor, Career Planning advisor, and friends; they will help you write an essay that reveals the right balance of personal and academic characteristics and specifics.