Sure Signs of an Outsourced College Essay

Joe Queenan

Between now and Thanksgiving, high-school seniors face the daunting task of writing riveting, revelatory personal essays that will make college admissions officers look more favorably on their applications.

Less-verbal students—and plenty of smart ones—routinely seek help preparing these essays. And sometimes, it is more than “help” that they’re looking for; they get their parents or moonlighting academics or impoverished poets or unexpectedly articulate classmates to crank out the essays for them.

Colleges insist that they can spot bogus essays because of anachronistic turns of phrases like “hoist with one’s own petard,” suggesting that a Shakespeare lecturer was trying to pay the rent, or because the entire 1,000-word essay lacks a single use of the words “awesome” or “sketchy.”