What irks about such an essay is not the platitudes — these are teenagers, after all. Neither is it the volunteering — we’re all for inculcating a sense of service, especially in well-to-do teens. What’s problematic are the incentives. These days, you’ll find many teenagers who volunteer precisely to bolster their prospects of admission to an elite school. There’s an in writing about rubbing elbows with the less fortunate in order to rub elbows with the very fortunate. Which is to say: Admissions essays about volunteering are inherently, structurally perverse. Colleges should ban them.
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