Any teenager can tell you that preparing and submitting college applications is an unpleasant experience. Recently I was thinking back to my own high school days and I remembered one particular part of the college application experience that stood out. Growing up in California, it was a no-brainer that I would be applying to one or more schools in the University of California system. My English teacher was one of the staff at my high school who had the responsibility for giving suggestions and help to students to improve their applications and thus give them a better shot at getting into the universities they were applying to. One day my teacher was talking to the class specifically about the University of California Admissions Board and what they liked to see on application essays. She told us they favored essays with stories about how applicants overcame hardship and then read us an essay that apparently had gone over very well with the Admissions Board. It was an essay by a girl who came from a poor family that couldn’t even afford to buy her a calculator and who, despite all the social and economic factors working against her, triumphed and graduated as one of her high school’s top students. It was the sort of heartwarming story we all love to read about, but my teenage brain was immediately bugged by a question. I raised my hand, and when called upon I asked my teacher what this affinity, on the part of the Admissions Board, for tales of hardship meant for the rest of us. What about those of us whose parents had worked their butts off to make sure we never had to go through any of that? Had they unintentionally put us at a disadvantage? There were no answers for my questions – the discussion just moved on and I didn’t try to press my inquiry. Later on, though, I did joke with some other students that I would one day be an intentionally horrible father who destroyed my family’s livelihood, just so I could give my kid a good sob story for his college application essay.

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