Quirky college essays must go

Schools waste time when they encourage their students to write strange application essays.

Jasper Johnson

While looking into graduate programs over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed many differences between graduate and undergraduate application processes. Most noticeably, essay prompts for graduate programs have a sense of professionalism which undergraduate application essays lack.
For example, MPR recently published a story about a local girl who wrote an undergraduate application essay about her love of Costco. The notion of any graduate program considering an essay like this is laughable.
The quirky essay seems endemic among students applying to undergraduate programs in the United States. With low college acceptance rates, applicants often feel the need to differentiate themselves from the crowd. 
Nevertheless, racing to write the quirkiest, most off-beat essay is unwise. Bizarre essays don’t indicate students’ potential to perform well in an academic environment, nor are these kinds of college essays testaments to their character.
The University of Minnesota has application options that forego essays. This, at least, avoids the pitfalls of quirkiness. However, it also neglects a student’s writing abilities. 
Trying to “get to know” a student via silly, creative stories detracts from the opportunity to explore writing skills and important personal interests. With that in mind, I encourage application committees at the University and other schools to require prospective students to write something akin to a personal statement for a job, instead of humorous, creative pieces. 
Writing skills are an important part of academic success, and an application should evaluate them with meaningful writing prompts.
Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].