• Dave Orlansky

The College Essay

“Jake, why don’t you take a seat,” I ask in my quiet yet forceful “counselor” voice. I hate these conversations; in fact, they are without a doubt the worst part of my job as a school counselor. As Jake removes his backpack, I steal one quick glance at the countdown calendar that sits on the far right corner of my desk.

Ah yes, only 7 more years until retirement...not too shabby, I think to myself as a wry smile sneaks across my face. I momentarily close my eyes and let my thoughts wander. I see a well-rested, sun-kissed version of myself, swinging in a cozy hammock between two picturesque palm trees, slowly sipping a frozen strawberry daiquiri on an island somewhere. Maybe a far-away tropical island where I could spend all day mindlessly reading gossip magazines and never have to look at another student schedule again. Better yet, I’d burn all the student schedules so I could make a bonfire on the beach, and then I’d dance freely around the flames with not a care in the world. And while I’m at it, all paperwork would be banned on this island as well. That’s right. No paperwork. I like that idea. And pointless meetings would be against the law on this island. And obnoxious parents who call every other day to complain about their kids’ grades would be severely punished. Maybe not the death penalty, but definitely a few nights’ stay in a white-collar prison. Yes, that would be nice I imagine. Quite nice...

“Um, Mrs. Richards? Did you call me down for something? Cause this is like right in the middle of one of my free periods, and I was pretty busy hanging out with my friends and stuff,” Jake says without looking up from his iPhone.

I suddenly snap back to reality, back to the windowless counseling office I call home, and turn my attention back to Jake. Jake with his skinny jeans and meticulously coiffed hair, slumped so far down in his chair he’s either trying his best to appear indifferent or he has severe scoliosis. Either way, I don’t care for him.

“Oh right. Jake. Thanks for coming down. I wanted to talk to you about your college essay,” I say as I place a printed copy of the essay on the desk between us.

“Yeah, what’s wrong with it? My tutor said it was great!”

I have to suppress every urge in my body not to roll my eyes. There’s no way anyone in their right mind would have considered this flaming pile of garbage ‘great.’ But I gather myself, making sure to hide what I’m really thinking. For I am a school counselor, and that is what we do.

“Well, for starters,” I say, peering back at Jake, “There are no periods in your essay.”

Jake shrugs. “Yeah...so?”

This meeting is going to be even more painful than I thought.

“Well sometimes,” I continue, “It’s helpful for the reader to be able to identify where one sentence ends and another one begins.” I try not to sound condescending, but it’s hard not to when this conversation has taken such an idiotic turn.

“I like writing in more of a stream of consciousness kind of way,” Jake explains. “That’s how people talk nowadays anyway. Nobody uses periods when they text and stuff!”

“Mmm hmm,” I let out while biting my lower lip. “But this isn’t a text, Jake. It’s an essay.”

“Well... whatever. I don’t need periods breaking up my thoughts,” Jake argues.

“Okay. Well if we could move on for a second, I noticed you also don’t have any commas in your essay either,” I add.

“Yeah, I don’t really believe in punctuation,” Jake says.

“You don’t believe in punctuation,” I ask incredulously.

“Nah,” Jake retorts with the smuggest of looks. “It’s not really for me.”

Well it’s official. This kid is a moron. No wonder they didn’t put a window in my office. I would have already jumped out of it.

“What’s your first choice in schools again?” I ask.

“Princeton,” he replies.

Oh my God. Whatever drugs he’s on, I want them. In fact, I need them. At least to get through the rest of this awful conversation. As much as it pains me though, I must forge ahead.

“What really concerns me though, was your third paragraph,” I continue. “You go into extraordinary detail about how difficult it was growing up as a young Pakistani girl in a war-torn nation and how much courage it took to stand up to the Taliban.

“Yeah. That was pretty good, right?” Jake asks with a shit-eating grin smeared across his face.

“Yes, it was quite moving,” I say. “Except for the fact that you’re not a young Pakistani girl. You're white. And a boy. And American.”

“The prompt asked me to write about overcoming adversity so I did,” Jake argues.

“I believe they meant your own adversity, not Malala’s,” I say with clenched teeth.

“Eh, whatever. I’m sure the admissions people won’t even notice,” Jake arrogantly declares. “Is there anything else? I don’t wanna miss lunch.”

“Right. Well I did have one last question,” I say. “It seems like instead of words, your last paragraph is just a poorly hand-drawn picture of a box. Is that right?”

“It’s not a box,” Jake corrects me. “It’s a building.”

“A building. Right. So that makes sense.”

“Yeah,” Jake says. “It’s the new library my dad donated to Princeton.”

“Ohhh” I say nodding. "I see."

“So are we done here? My essay’s fine, right?” Jake asks.

“You know what? It's better than fine,” I say. “In fact, it's great.”

With that, Jake grabs his backpack, buries his head back into the screen of his iPhone, and hurries out the door. And I return to my far-away tropical island.

Only 7 more years.

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