Writing sample must be added to ensure high admission standards

by Mark Pleiss

In a vain attempt to relive my youth over Thanksgiving break, I stopped by my old high school to smell the old smells and chat with a few teachers I’d always enjoyed.

My high-school English teacher is of the younger breed. Fresh from college with a strong knowledge of the language and a love for students, she seemed more disconcerted than normal for some reason.

She told me it was a phase, but it was tough to see her in such poor condition. She told me how futile teaching English seems at times. Though it’s what she loves, she just isn’t sure what kind of impact she’s having.

Later that week, USA Today reported that there’s an increasing number of students entering the public school system, but there aren’t nearly enough instructors to teach them.

Teachers – like my favorite English teacher – are becoming discouraged, and the obvious consequences fall on the students.

And because of that, American students aren’t writing well.

How well is not well? Well, this well.

According to USA Today, this was excused as an “adequate” piece of writing in a sophomore high school class: “Man builds strange house to scare ghosts. He says that he did it to confuse the ghosts. But why may we ask would he want to spend 10 years building a house.”

This student could be two years away from Simpson College, and he doesn’t know how to use a question mark. To me, this is a scary thought.

My work-study job is to help students with their papers. A lot of the students I work with at Simpson have little problem writing; they just need a second opinion or a few dabs of polish. But I’m often frustrated when I see mistakes college students undoubtedly should not be making.

So what can we do about this as an academic community? We can demand better writing from the students we admit.

Simpson has long been known for the individual attention it gives its students.

As a private, controlled environment with a low student-to-teacher ratio, our school is a model program in writing education.

Students just arriving at Simpson can’t be expected to write at a professional level right away. It takes time to develop.

Poor writing isn’t a sign of a lack of intelligence – it’s just the lack of a skill. But it’s a very important skill and one that no SAT or ACT will reveal in a student.

Writing is a craft. Like knitting or painting, it takes a great amount of practice and much training from a master.

But we must remember this is a college, and colleges must demand high standards from their students.

I like to think I attend a school not just anyone can get into. If Simpson wants to maintain its high status as a private college, it must admit only those who can acquire the sharpest of writing skills to make their school proud in the future.

This is why Simpson needs to implement a writing sample as part of the admissions process.

To me, the writing sample is the best way to get to know a student, as well as to find out about his or her writing skills.

It’s also a chance for someone who didn’t get outstanding grades or score very high on the ACT to make a case for his or her admission. It’s fair, and it’s logical.

Writing samples are demanded by most colleges around the country, and Simpson should be no exception. It’s essential for this college to remain an elite institution, especially in this time of record enrollment.

Communication skills are the first thing employers look for, so writing well is one of the greatest communication skills a recent graduate can have. With improved writing, our school and our alumni will be more likely to succeed.

And if you don’t trust me about the effectiveness of sharp writing, just ask Dr. Suess:

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.”