The college application essay : just tell me what to write and I'll write it
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This study aims to develop a method for more clearly understanding the topics that applicants choose when writing their college or university application essay. As such, the purpose of this dissertation is two-fold. First, to analyze the unstudied volume of advice and guidance available to applicants on the World Wide Web, this study will analyze the guidance that is available to motivate and guide applicants as they embark on writing their essay. Second, this study examines the college application essay and will create a categorization of the application essay topics on which a select group of applicants chose to write. The purpose is not to evaluate the applicant or their demographics, nor is it to suggest “best practices” for college applicants to follow when writing their essays. Furthermore, as an examination of popular media and of narrative expression, this analysis does not attempt to reveal a causal link between media and the resulting narratives. Instead, this inductive analysis develops a baseline theory that begins a discussion of the application essay and the multitude of information that might guide its creation. The motivation for this study is grounded in the following: 1) many colleges and universities employ selective practices in their admissions process and they consider the application essay to be a helpful tool in selecting from among otherwise academically eligible students; 2) applicants consider the essay to be one of the most challenging and unfamiliar aspects of the application; and 3) a multi-million-dollar industry has developed to assist students with college and university applications. This research supports prior studies that indicate that the writing of college application essays (or personal statements) is in fact as Paley (1996) suggests an exercise in a rhetorical conundrum. Applicants emerge from the angst and confusion of how to approach and what to write about in their college application essay to produce a work that reveals personal characteristics that they think are important to college admissions officers and that they hope, will ultimately, result in admission to their institution of choice.