(UPDATE: College applicants: Googling “i felt like i truly belonged when brown” is not going to help you get into Brown. Or maybe you’ve got rich folks…what do I know?)
College applications are increasingly testing students’ brevity, as The Chicago Tribune pointed out on Friday.
Brown University, for instance, has asked its applicants this year to write—in addition to the newly restrictive 500-word personal essay required by the Common Application—25 or fewer words in response to one of the following, rather ambitious prompts: “I felt like I truly belonged when …” or “If I could do something with no risk of failing, I would …”
I am on board. I’ve written here before about how writers should see things like Twitter and Web-page text boxes as fecund challenges the ways poets do certain strict forms. Ditto for college applicants: Everyone can text thoughtlessly, and everyone can write thoughtless essays in five clunky paragraphs. Brevity takes scrutiny, care, and time. Blaise Pascal: “I have only made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
Ditto2 for college applicants’ parents:
Susan Van Horn, a mother of two high school seniors in Illinois, told The Tribune that colleges’ application questions this year were “markedly different” from four years ago, when her son applied to school. She also expressed frustration at the 25-word quotas some applications imposed, telling The Tribune, “You find yourself counting characters and editing ‘do not’ down to ‘don’t.’ It gets that silly.”
You are wrong, Susan Van Horn. “Do not” is not unsilly, it’s needlessly formal. You may think a college application is a formal occasion, but these schools are arguing otherwise.