College admissions officers likely have to read a lot of crap, but there's likely nothing that prepares them for applications that can only be described as far removed from this world.
That formed the basis of today's burning question from Redditor EZ112, who asked the online community: "Admissions officers/essay coaches of Reddit: what was the most pretentious application you've ever seen?"
I had a Chinese student write in their application: "I hardly ever waste water, paper or rice".
Presumably he was conflating Economics, the degree subject being applied for, with being economical. He also said that he had found a phone and had returned it to the owner "even though he was Russian".
"A whole essay..."
A whole essay about how it had "long been her dream to study at the prestigious University of Leicester" and all the incredible gifts life would bestow on her for living her dream.
In an application for a university that was NOT Leicester.
One with $100 in it.
I worked in a very religious private schools admissions department for a few weeks, filing applications. The parents had to write a letter about their child and why the school would suit them.
I'll always remember the man who wrote three pages about how successful a business man he was, how he owned several businesses, how good he was at the school's main sport and then attached a large check to the last page. Not a word about the kid.
What I remember most?
The rejection letter from the principal with a thinly veiled insinuation that bribery was immoral and not acceptable at this school.
"One admissions essay..."
I was part of an Admissions Committee when I served as faculty at a wonderful University.
One admissions essay compared his act of applying to the law school with that of a Palestinian child facing oppression.
The closing line was "Bravery comes in many forms. A Palestinian child picking up a stone against Illegal Occupation, and me writing this essay, both are comparable."
Still haven't forgotten it.
"I got to interview some students..."Giphy
I got to interview some students for a special program in my undergrad. It was highly competitive and lots of people wanted it.
Young woman comes in. I offer her a seat.
"I'd prefer to stand. This won't take long."
"No, my dad is the dean of (one of the colleges) and my mom is one of the professors who established this program. I'm getting in."
I emphasized that she really should take a seat. She refused again. So I say, "Hey, this interview, me approving you is part of the process. You have to do well in this to get in."
"You'll say I did well or my parents will make life hell for you."
Her parents had zero impact on anything in my life and I told her as much. After articulating this to her I said, "I'm going to give you a chance to walk out the door and restart this interview. Fresh start."
She lost it and yelled at me. For like five minutes. I filled out the interview sheet with direct quotes from her tantrum.
She didn't get in. A few days after decisions were made, I got an email from her father who was, in fact, a dean. He asked me to come in and "have a chat" with him. It was totally a request. I went to talk to him.
When I went to see him he had a copy of the interview sheet where I had several direct quotes from his daughter. Some of the quotes were awful and directed at me, my family, and basically everything she could hit on.
He apologized profusely for his daughter and asked if she could redo the interview. He was leaning on me a bit at this point. I told him that choices had already been made and she was not selected.
The whole thing was mind blowing. She was so entitled.
"Not an admissions officer..."
I have evaluated placement essays for first year writing (first semester, second semester, or in rare cases, tested out completely). I remember reading one about how selfies were important because of such reasons as "so people can know where you are" and "if you travel you can use them to take pictures of monuments and landmarks." This student essentially, though I'm not sure intentionally, made the argument that every picture that is taken HAS TO BE a selfie and if they weren't in the picture it wasn't worth anything.
I put them in "first semester."
"I used to tutor..."
I used to tutor at uni, and helped occasionally with my tutees' applications. One thing I always encouraged them to do was to mention their aspirations after graduating, and to mention why specifically this university. One kid, who'd been pretentious the whole time, actually wrote in his essay that he didn't really care about the academic part because his dad was just going to give him a job when he graduated anyways. He chose the unis he was applying to based on how impressive they sounded, and how good the party life was.
I kept in touch with his sister (she was super smart and studied the same subject as me, so I helped her out with career advice etc later on). She dropped into conversation later, with a noticeable bit of glee, that her brother was 'going through a challenging patch' because his father informed him that no, daddy was not going to give him a free ride into a cushy job, and did expect him to get a real job.
"I was a medical school interview coach..."
I was a medical school interview coach, earning some extra money through med school. Some applicants were great, others were what you'd expect from kids whose parents are paying a tutor to teach them how to act normal.
Our med school interviews are easy to pass, but difficult to do well in. They involve generic questions like your passion or interests, ethical scenarios, decision-making questions, knowledge of healthcare topics, etc. There have been memorable answers to mock questions.
In terms of pretentious, I asked one guy what his hobbies were and he said he loved Armani suits and buying expensive coffee blends. Not a great answer, but what killed it was that he began describing "the smoothness of the bean" and licking and smacking his lips together in wet squelching noises.
Another applicant's dad was a successful surgeon, so he argued in his answers "I basically already know how to be a doctor, through osmosis". He'd failed the entrance exam seven times and his dad opened a lot of doors for him, getting him research editor positions for his CV etc. There were complex family dynamics. He would say really inappropriate things like, "When I'm a doctor, I can buy and sell you and all your friends" "All I have to do is pass this stupid exam and interview and my dad will get me a spot in the training program, you'll be struggling for years." He'd then flip to complaining for half an hour about how his sister gets treated like a 'princess', and call me at 10 PM 'just to talk'. I declined further sessions but was pretty sympathetic, to be honest.
Whenever his dad called to arrange sessions and materials, he was very pejorative toward his son. I had trouble hearing him during one of the phone calls because of background noise until he stepped outside. Later found out that he had been calling me, a tutor, during his son's graduation ceremony. He missed his son going on stage to receive his diploma because he was arranging a booking time with me. It placed a lot of his son's defensive behaviour in context.
And no, he has not been accepted into a med school. That was two years ago and he emailed only a few weeks ago to request access to my Google Drive to brush up on some things. I granted it because when your answer to a conflict in teamwork question is, "I'd tell them I'm sorry that they're wrong", no amount of Microsoft Word documents will change your performance.
"Ohhh, I have one."
Ohhh, I have one. A longtime friend's mother reviews applications at an elite college. I saw her recently and she was telling us about some of the essays. One was from a girl who clearly came from a background of great privilege. She described a day of shopping and dining at swanky places with her parents in the big city one day. At the end of the day they came across a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk begging for money or food. She initially passed him by ... but then, THEN, seeing the American flag flying on the corner up ahead on the next block, remembered "what this great country of ours was built on, as well as what life is truly about" and went back to give this homeless person her restaurant leftovers.
All described with much self congratulation. I'm paraphrasing a lot of it, but the part in quotes is exact (and will likely be repeated for some time to come, accompanied by chuckling, by my friend and me). The country was built on, and life itself is about, giving a homeless person your half-eaten burger and fries.
"I once got a binder..."
I once got a binder with nineteen letters of recommendation from what seemed every adult who ever vaguely met the student. We also got photocopies of her SCUBA license and lifeguard certification. This was just for a college with a 98% acceptance rate.
We also had an essay question that was "If you could spend a day with anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be and why?" and some kid wrote about how the college admissions racket discounted who he was as an individual and that he wanted to spend the day with the college admissions officer so they'd really get to know him. Came off as a bit creepy, and, again, 98% acceptance rate. If you could write a coherent sentence and didn't murder anyone, you were going to be accepted, we didn't freaking care about your personality.
"I felt sorry for her..."Giphy
I'm a college admissions consultant and the worst one I've read was a full meta essay about how much the applicant loved college admissions and writing admissions essays. It was arrogant and aloof throughout but the kicker was when the student called herself "an elite applicant with outstanding admissions essay skills" right there in the essay.
I felt sorry for her because it felt like the stress of the process had given her a Stockholm Syndrome obsession with it. I tried to bring her back to reality gently but she wasn't having it.
She didn't get in.
"I read as an admissions person..."
I read as an admissions person for a competitive national fellowship that helps students study abroad.
The last essay I read that day made my job very easy as this person was all over the place, bragging about being a religious hippie, how his parents were missionaries so he already had a global perspective, how he writes the best poetry, everyone considers him a leader...
These were all one sentence and indented as new paragraphs with absolutely ZERO elaboration.
The cherry on top, his closing, was literally saying that he could work in the private sector or government when he graduates and "the choice is yours."
I was like lol OK private sector thanks.
"This is actually..."
This is actually a difficult mom story. The student was a nice kid, with decent grades, so an easy admit, but with a very average scholarship. I can see from his app that they are very well off, and they didn't even file the FAFSA, which is a telltale sign that they don't need the help. So a while after I admit the kid, the mom calls me to ask for a higher scholarship. I ask her if her son retook the ACT/SAT since he submitted he submitted his app (the only reason why we'd reconsider a scholarship), she says no. Okay, so there's no reason for the scholarship committee (aka me) to review his scholarship then, and it's obvious that she's only asking for the bragging rights. I'm very nice about it, but I make it clear that we're not increasing her kid's scholarship.
She goes off on me, telling me that clearly I must not know the quality of private school he goes to (which I am very familiar with) and that I don't know how much money they have. Her reasoning was that they are rich, so we should give him a better scholarship and then they'll donate money to the college. Not only did she pull the favorite line "Do you have any idea who we are?" but she also tried to bribe me with his family financing a new building on campus! Direct quote: "I don't think you understand me here, the school where my daughter goes to has a building named for us. Don't you think (my university name) needs a new building on campus?"
It was the most bizarre and entitled conversation I've ever had with another human. Long story short, I didn't bump his scholarship and the kid enrolled anyway.
"I reviewed applications..."
I reviewed applications for a local state college. We didn't need to read essays if the grades were good enough, but one time I saw a kid with an 800 SAT writing score. I had never seen one, so I curiously checked their essay.
Their essay was all about getting an 800 on their writing SAT.
"The most pretentious..."
The most pretentious essays are the athlete essays. I've seen many applicants just write "Don't need essay, college athlete" for all four essay prompts. The way we do applications they will likely get in.
"Wrote her entire med school application..."
Wrote her entire med school application essay about how she wanted to become a doctor so that she could perform free plastic surgery for family members. Had no idea all the ethical reasons why that was not okay, very angry that she did not get accepted.
"I work in admissions..."
I work in admissions at a small, highly selective college, although in an administrative role rather than reading essays or applications. I deal with prospective students on a day-to-day basis, but it's honestly their parents who have horrific entitlement issues. They'll tell me about their business dealings/connections/legacy status with absolutely no prompting, answer questions for or over their kids, and generally treat the students here as props for their own children's education rather than as actual people. There are a lot of kids who are clearly uninterested in the school but tour and interview here because their parents want them to. I've also had people throw fits at me about their own mistakes--signing up for the wrong things, the wrong date, or fucking up their application in some way. Parents really see their children as an extension of themselves and their children's college education as a financial investment. It's all about status from the applicant's end and they don't understand that colleges are often looking for fit.
"I'm an admissions counselor."
I'm an admissions counselor. One applicant refused to fill out a very simple application supplement because she was homeschooled by parents who are doctors and "they are more than qualified to educate me." When I told her the supplement was not optional, she accused me of being racist (?!).
Needless to say she did not complete her application and I assume she went to a different school.
"It was an impressive..."
Kid came in with an "essay" which was, to put it simply, an extension of his resume. It was an impressive resume, but it was a resume, and gave no insight into who he was. I was told that the purpose of this "essay" was to justify his poor grades and fit everything he couldn't fit into his resume into his application.
Anyway, here's a step by step guide on how to actually write a college admission essay.