Where Are Our Monsters?

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It’s Monday, and 2nd period is almost over. I’m almost too ready for the bell to ring, and I jump a little bit when it does. I quickly amble down to Mrs. Lockwood’s room, not trying to look excited, but not wasting time, either. I’m the only Jewish member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes: Here there be monsters.

Only one other person in my high school graduating class (call her Jane) applied to Kenyon. On paper, Jane was an admissions counselor’s fantasy: she had a near-perfect GPA, scored above 2000 on her SATs, spent her free time as an ESL tutor and volunteered in the low-income Hispanic community in our hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. She was a more qualified applicant than me in nearly every facet of the college application process, but I got the thumbs-up, she got wait-listed and it didn’t surprise either of us. What happened?

When I walk in I am, as always, given an unrealistically chipper “Hey, Jon!” from Ashley. The officers think that if they’re super-nice I’ll believe in the Resurrection. I thought this club was about playing soccer; I didn’t even think you were allowed to have prayer meetings in public school. As I sit down, I am reminded by Darcy that Jesus saves. A student opens in prayer and we begin.

Jane may have been an admissions counselor’s fantasy, but as a match for Kenyon she was a nightmare. Jane did not actually want to go to Kenyon. She had heard that it was a picturesque writing college in rural Ohio, and she had a general interest in writing and picturesque things, but she had her sights set on larger, more prestigious schools that would both match her resume and allow her to continue her work in Hispanic outreach. Kenyon’s application was the last one she sent in, and she spent all of three hours regurgitating whatever she could find on Kenyon’s website in order to complete the supplemental essays the night the application was due. She considered the supplemental essays a burden, and put as little effort as possible into them because she didn’t have a compelling interest in Kenyon in the first place.

I, on the other hand, spent more time on the “edge of your map” essay than I did on my Common App essay; not because I had to, but because the very fact that Kenyon asked me what was on the edge of my map taught me as much about Kenyon as they learned about me in my response. I remember practically bragging to my friends about this tiny college in the middle of nowhere that was making me write this off-kilter essay that no one else had to write. The fact that Kenyon had a unique application made me think that Kenyon would be a unique place, and that the fact that their application process was more interesting and involved than other schools was indicative of their classroom experience. I made Kenyon’s application my top priority because Kenyon’s application set it apart from the other, similar schools I was applying to.

Today is a special day for the FCA, because today is the Gay-Straight Alliance’s Day of Silence to commemorate the silence that gay members of society have had to maintain over the years. The members of the FCA are encouraged to pray for those participating, even the straight people participating out of compassion. There are a few jokes exchanged about the rainbow-colored ribbons the participants are wearing. Something isn’t right with this picture, and I point out a study we read in psychology class that correlates sexual orientation to pre-natal hormones. I expect angry gay bashing, but what I get is much better.

In the first issue of the Collegian this year, it was reported that Kenyon will not require the Class of 2018 to submit supplemental essays. Likely a move designed to bolster our rankings among our peer institutions, lowering the amount of work required to apply to Kenyon should increase our total number of applicants, thereby making us more selective and theoretically more desirable for top students. In the Collegian article, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jennifer Delahunty highlighted the story of a Kenyon applicant who considered not applying due to the supplemental essays and Associate Professor of English Ivonne Garcia pointed out the “barrier to students who had to attend schools that did not provide them with strong writing instruction,” that supplemental essays create as more socially acceptable reasons to get rid of them.

But Kenyon has always been a home for the kind of student who writes the supplemental essays. To put it bluntly, it’s a good thing that said essays discourage some students from applying; one of the things that make our community so strong is that everyone here was forced to articulate why they wanted to be a part of it. Those who are unwilling to do so are less likely to embrace Kenyon when they arrive and, despite Dean Delahunty’s assertion, expecting students to bridge the buy-in gap by emailing her directly (as she suggested in the Collegian) is a pipe dream. Moreover, while I share Professor Garcia’s concern regarding barriers to entry that arise due to writing requirements, the same could be said of the Common Application’s essay in the first place. Supplemental essays may highlight excellent writing skills, but that isn’t their point. Jane was a perfectly competent writer; she was wait-listed because she made a weak case (with impeccable grammar) as to why she wanted to go to Kenyon as opposed to the University of Virginia. If she had been a poor writer, it would have been apparent in her Common Application essay, and Kenyon’s supplemental essays would have been the least of her worries.

Monster

Illustration by Brianne Presley

Brittany speaks up. She talks about Christian values and “loving the sinner while hating the sin.” I’ve been waiting for this all year. I finally get a chance to have a real discussion about a real issue. I sit up in my chair, and the club meeting begins.

I’ve had a wildly successful college career, and I’m convinced that I would not have had similar success had I gone elsewhere. However, I’m far from convinced that I would have been accepted to this school had it not been for my supplemental essays that allowed me to demonstrate why I was a better fit for Kenyon than Jane was, even if my overall resume wasn’t as impressive.

I applied to Kenyon because I saw that it cared more about building a cohesive class than it cared about taking the most accomplished students it could possibly find. When our admissions office signals that it wants more Janes and fewer people like me, it shows that our administration is abandoning that goal, spooked by the cutthroat netizens of U.S. News and World Report, the Princeton Review and (gulp) College Prowler.

Kenyon’s decision to move away from supplemental essays may lead to more applicants, more selectivity and higher rankings, but it begs the question: What’s on the edge of Kenyon’s map, and are we too worried about our external prestige to take it on?

8 comments on “Where Are Our Monsters?”

  1. I totally agree with you Jon! I loved the supplements, I read and work on them with my students as a way to show their individuality. We also had Veronica Hauad – Kenyon Alum and University of Chicago admissions staff member – come in and discuss UChicago’s supplements. It is a school with a lower acceptance rate than Kenyon, with some of the most creative supplements, and some of the most successful students. I wonder down what path Kenyon is headed. Supplements should not be read solely for grammar and such, but also the story and character of the person behind the writing. We all know very well that Kenyon will put you and your writing through the wringer, regardless of your incoming skill level. There is no conversation about social disparities that is worth applying to supplements if we are reading them for the proper reasons. if someone is lazy enough to disregard Kenyon because of a supplement, I don’t think we really want them. Fudge ’em. Shame on Kenyon.

  2. I’ll give my perspective because it’s not one that I think will be voiced otherwise:

    I am a high school senior and will be applying this fall for admission to Kenyon. After visiting Kenyon, I had an overall positive perception of the school. I met with Prof. Corrigan (economics) and we had a great discussion about his research and economics at Kenyon. A far out (as in really cool) senior named Kisky interviewed me; we talked for what seemed like hours.

    You all have a great school, and I’d like to have the option to apply to become a part of it. I think that regardless of whether there is a supplement or not, Kenyon will not attract the Janes of the world to apply. Your university prides itself on having a community of well informed learners who love the liberal arts. The kind of person who says “Oh, I have to write a supplement to get in here? I just won’t apply.” is not the person that your school markets itself to.

    This is merely my perception, and I would doubt that any other high school student who’s visited Kenyon and has done their research has a radically different point of view.

  3. There are many aspects of the admissions process that are not being considered. Admissions decisions are not made because of a really good essay or one that lacks depth. Someones entire file is looked at before a candidate is accepted, rejected, or wait-listed. To assume that you were accepted because of a really heart inspired essay and Jane was wait-listed solely because her essay lacked inspiration is inaccurate. It is possible that Jane may have received a poor letter of recommendation or had a poor grade in a course that she never spoke to you about. It is quite possible that your letters were excellent and your interview was looked upon as amazing. Kenyon is an amazing school and will continue to attract some of the most interesting students in the country. Removing the supplemental essays will not turn Kenyon into a different place.

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