Anthony Hennen of the Martin Center highlights recent changes in essays linked to college student admissions.

The college admissions essay can be a stressful part of the application process for students. Like standardized test scores, however, their influence is waning. Many colleges have stopped requiring them. Even when they do, essays tend to be short—more like personal statements than a longer and more serious piece of writing.

On the bright side, not requiring them might be for the best: some in use have become compelled political declarations. However, the loss of the college essay is also a loss for challenging students and setting the tone for their next level of education. The disappearing essay is a sign of the lack of interest in the individuality of the student. …

… [L]onger essays would be desirable as colleges make standardized tests optional.

A longer writing assignment would give students the chance to make a case for what they’d contribute to campus culture and help admissions officials gauge students’ intellectual abilities and maturity levels. Students, no matter their career interests, need to learn how to communicate clearly. Essays can help universities notice problems early and fix them.

Unfortunately, the extra answers demanded by the top public institutions in North Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State, detract from the Common App approach. They are narrowly political.

For Chapel Hill, students write two 250-word responses chosen from three options:

“Expand on an aspect of your identity – for example, your religion, culture, race, sexual or gender identity, affinity group, etc. How has this aspect of your identity shaped your life experiences thus far?
If you could change one thing about where you live, what would it be and why?
Describe someone who you see as a community builder. What actions has that person taken? How has their work made a difference in your life?”

NC State’s prompt is about a student’s commitment to diversity.