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Draft days

It's that time again, when high school students struggle to write — and rewrite — the perfect college essay

By James H. Burnett III
Globe Staff / December 3, 2011
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For the majority of high school seniors, life’s big problems include middling grades, bad skin, or parents who “just don’t understand.’’ But this time of year another major challenge comes to mind: writing their college essays. This is the season when teenagers sit - and sit - before computers, struggling to describe themselves, their achievements and goals in a page or two, in ways that will pursuade college admissions officers that they should be welcomed into the fold. Experts say the college essay, which typically is no longer than a page or, at most, two, has become an increasing headache for students as statements can be the factor that sets them apart amid a rising tide of applicants. The Common Application, now required by hundreds of U.S. colleges, has made it easier for students to apply to more schools than ever before. At the same time, the app now sets an upper limit of just 500 words for the statement. “When you have students who have similarly high grades and other qualifications, the essay takes on a new level of importance, because it’s at that point that college admissions advisors are determining what makes one student meaningfully different from another,’’ says Daniel Johnson, executive director of 826 Boston, the local branch of the tutoring and writing non-profit co-founded by educator Ninive Calegari and author Dave Eggers. Hurdles students cite these days range from sheer intimidation to bashfulness to mastering English as a second language, Johnson says.

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