Jacques Steinberg is the author of "The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process at A Premier College," and the editor of the New York Times blog "The Choice: Demystifying College Admissions and Aid."
Unfortunately, I think he missed the point when he was on the Today Show recently discussing college essays.
One applicant wrote in the essay,
John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ was sung by Fox’s new show, ‘Glee.’ In one particular episode, a deaf glee club performed this song. I heard it before when John Lennon sang it: unfortunately I did not care much for it. When I watched this episode while the deaf adolescents were singing it, and soon joined by another glee club, it surprisingly affected me…
John Lennon sang it like a professional, but what he did not have was the emotion behind the words. He sang it more staccato than legato. He sang it like it was his job, and nothing more. These singers from Glee sang with powerful emotions…"
That applicant misjudged the age and sensibility of the admissions committee. You're dissing John Lennon and Imagine over Glee. And there's a good chance there's some people in that room that probably appreciated the John Lennon version."
I don't think the problem with that essay had anything to do with the age and sensibility of the admissions officers. The problem with that essay is that the student is taking him/herself a little too seriously. John Lennon is a musical icon whose music has survived over 40 years and will probably be around for another 40. Glee is a TV show that will likely have a much shorter life span. It's fine if you like the Glee version more than John's version. But it would have been a little more endearing if the student acknowledged that she's probably in the minority with that opinion.
What if the applicant had written:
My parents are going to kill me for saying this, but I just can't get on board with John Lennon. They tell me that he's the greatest song writer that's ever lived. My mother still owns all of The Beatles' vinyl albums and can't imagine what the 60's would have been like without them. But frankly, I thought Glee's version of Imagine was a lot catchier than Lennon's. I just hope my parents will still speak to me if they read this."
See the difference?
You don't have to guess what admissions officers will and won't like. You just have to be yourself and show some quality of thinking, a mature perspective in which you recognize that the world extends beyond yourself. And if you like Glee more than you like The Beatles, that's fine.