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The One Word That Needs to Be Eliminated from the College Admissions Process

As the school year comes to a close, many high school juniors are asking for letters of recommendation in advance of the college admissions process. In return, many teachers and school counselors are asking students and sometimes parents to fill out questionnaires in order to help them write these letters.

The most popular question is how the student would describe themself or how the parent would describe their child. In this season of requests, I have my own request to make—not only to students, but parents, teachers, and counselors. I suggest we retire one word in the English language forever.

Hardworking
 
This is the most overused word in the college admissions process, especially when describing females in letters of recommendation, how females describe themselves, and even how students describe their own mothers. When I hear "hardworking," I cringe because this word is too common, too generic, and feeds stereotypes about young women and adult women alike.
 
So why is it such an unhelpful word? Well, first, it's an adjective and adjectives are modifiers. Adjectives can't stand on their own. In fact, adjectives are weak parts of speech that carry little meaning behind them without a noun attached to them. That is why I prefer to describe myself and others using nouns because nouns are much more powerful descriptors and more accurate identifiers when describing individuals.
 
For example, I often ask students how they would describe each member of their family when I am looking for essay topics to explore. Almost 100% of the time when they describe their mom (whether their mom has a full-time job, part-time job, or are stay-at-home moms) the student will say something like this: "She's really hardworking." But when I ask about their dad, they often will list what they do as a career, and their educational and professional accomplishments. The mom is defined not by her accomplishments, but how she gets through the day. The dad is defined by achievement.
 
If my kids are ever asked to describe me, I want them to use nouns that are accurate representations of who I am: "author," "business owner," "student advocate," "disruptor," and "trailblazer in the field of college admissions and college counseling." These nouns describe who I am, not how I got there.
 
For teachers and school counselors writing letters of recommendation, the word "hardworking" gets misconstrued in a way that it actually disadvantages the student, usually female, in the admissions process. Instead of describing a female student's intellect, specific contributions to the classroom, and examples of her assignments, projects, presentations, and papers, the student is reduced to an adjective that suggests she isn't as smart and capable as her male peers. 
As we consider the landscape of college admissions and the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, factors like gender may become even more heavily scrutinized which can lead to discrimination. For decades, females outnumbered males in almost every college's applicant pool and on almost every college campus in America. This makes it harder for females to be admitted. Even when females out-perform their male peers, their efforts are often reduced to how hard they worked instead of how much they have achieved and contributed. That is one reason why male students are admitted to college at higher rates


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To the young women like my 17-year old daughter and the thousands of female students I meet every year: Don't ever use the word "hardworking" to describe yourself.
It allows others to diminish our worth, discriminate against us, and judge us unfairly. Instead, define yourself by what you have accomplished. Men do it all of the time. Women don't want to boast about themselves. But it is not boasting. It is finally getting credit for everything we have achieved.