This devastating article details the lengths to which a private school went to drive their students into college. It included allegations of abuse, falsifying transcripts and encouraging students to exaggerate the challenges in their life in their admissions essays.
The idea was to “manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity.”
In the fictional world of the TV show “This is Us”, a recent episode also focused on a character’s inspirational admissions essay. Here young Randall resists the temptation to answer the question of naming “one” person who has made the greatest impact in his life. Instead suggesting that it was a small army of people who made his journey possible. Watch him read his essay here.
Both of these stories put a spotlight on the increasingly high stakes game of college applications and their signature component, the admissions essay.
The first exposes the system's bias toward “pull yourself up from your bootstraps stories.” The higher the climb the more worthy the student appears to be.
The second also funnels the student down a narrow narrative that tries to pin success, if not on your own effort, then that of a single other person.
We all love a good success story. We root for the underdog and are moved – even to tears – when they make it.
But our attraction to these stories can inadvertently drive young people to only see their journeys through this narrow lens at a time when we should be teaching them to see their lives more completely.
We are telling them that we value stories that scream “This is Me” instead of asking them to make the connection that says “This is Us.”
Thanks to all of those who donated to our #givingTuesday campaign. Your generosity will go directly young designers/interns who have struggled to move up in life. They in turn will help us create moving content that helps more people reflect on their lives.