These Kids Today Can’t Write Good and Stuff

So I get the point of schools asking for shorter and shorter writing samples on their applications. I do. In a lot of ways, you can learn more about applicants via shorter responses than longer ones, and are more likely to get an honest look at those applicants than you will if you ask them to craft something that feels like a school assignment.

But the mean, misanthropic part of me has a different take. In my former life as an associate editor of Campus Progress, I edited a lot of college students’ writing. I saw the future of American prose every day, and that future was grim, poorly punctuated, and riddled with to/too errors. That’s not to say that I didn’t work with a large number of really talented young writers, because I did. On the whole, though—and yes, this will make me sound much older and crotchety than I am—I was shocked by the extent to which “kids these days” can’t write.

And it wasn’t just restricted to the colleges at the “third-tier” schools, or whatever obnoxious label you want to stick on certain institutions. This was an across-the-board phenomenon, from the Ivy Leagues on down. Students struggled with really basic issues, too, stuff that any decent high school English class should drill into a pupil by the time he or she is a sophomore.

The solution obviously isn’t to make it harder for poor writers to get into schools, so maybe this was more of a jumping-off point for my standard kids-can’t-write rant than anything. But it is a problem, and based on my (yes, purely anecdotal) experience, a lot of students graduate from college completely unable to put together a decent-looking document of any type or length.

(Given its content, there is no way this post doesn’t contain at least one or two grammatical and/or spelling errors. I would like to deflect the ire of commenters by preemptively acknowledging this. Thank you.)

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Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.