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Please grade my GRE Issue essay!


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Prompt: “Students should only take courses that have a direct bearing on their future careers.”


Students should mostly take courses that directly relate to their future careers, as that is the point of a major. However, while some courses may not have any direct bearing on one's future careers, there are certainly opportunities to study things that have indirect effects on one's profession, how one interacts with others, how one thinks critically, and so forth. Thus, students should be required to take a handful of courses with content that can be applied to multiple facets of their lives.

For example, as artificial intelligence, electronic tracking and surveillance, online harassment, and targeted advertising are have become more common in the past few years, software developers must think critically about the effects – both positive and negative – that their products have on individuals and on society. However, computer science majors generally do not include ethics requirements. As a result, surreptitious surveillance and anonymous harassment (often on the basis of race, ethnicity, skin color, gender, sexuality, religion, and/or national origin) have run rampant on the Internet. If all computer science majors were required to take at least one ethics course, they would be at least somewhat primed to consider more deeply the connections between humans and technology; this would reduce the risk of causing significant harm to the users of their products.

That being said, there is some merit in the opposing argument. As the cost of university attendance rises in the United States and in many other countries, students and their families are much more cost-conscious than they were in previous decades. The fewer seemingly extraneous courses a student takes, the less time it will take for them to graduate, allowing them to enter the labor market at a younger age. This is certainly a valid concern. To balance these two opposing interests, universities should require only a few core courses that will aid all students both at work and in everyday life: for example, an ethics course (which could be divided further into bioethics, ethics for computer scientists, ethics and public policy, et cetera), a survey course of world religions (so that students are more knowledgeable regarding and tolerant of cultural differences), or a course in basic statistics and data analysis (so that students can become more informed consumers, voters, and readers).

Undergraduate students ought to be mostly enrolled in courses that are related to their majors and future careers, but there is some significant value in taking courses that teach content that can be applied to a wide range of issues and dilemmas, regardless of profession. By exposing students to ideas and topics that they would have otherwise not considered, universities will produce more mature, thoughtful, and well-informed citizens.

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I would put this around a 4 (but really, just guessing). 


  1. Your evidence does not fully support your thesis. You list an example of computer science majors when the issue at stake is all students. You need to argue with more general statements and then offer specific proofs. 
  2. Your opposition argument is not strong. You state cost as a factor but then you directly move to time to graduation. While cost and time are linked, you did not link them. You left the reader to assume a correlation. Moreover, you do not prove that the prompt is motivated by financial concerns. 
  3. Contrary evidence to your thesis. In your second paragraph, ethics is the only issue you explore. Later you propose an "ethics for computer scientists course" which by its very name would have "a direct bearing on their future courses." In arguing in this way you actually support the prompt you are arguing against. 
  4. All your ideas were limited by the prompt. No creative insights. In this way, you have agreed with the unwritten assumptions of the prompt: e.g., that a student going to a university actually knows what they want to do or what they are able to do. Always interact with the assumptions of the prompt.
  5. Only one paragraph of for evidence. While you add additional for evidence in your opposition paragraph, you do not interact with the issue on different fronts.


  1. Make sources up! Really. This is one of the best kept GRE secrets. If you have a prompt about education, just make up a statistic or a quote from Harvard or Yale or someone about the subject, interact with it, and use it to support your thesis. Also do it for the opposition. This takes creativity and may take practice before the exam to do well. Because you can't look up sources, you are allowed to make them up! (I did! Scored a 5.5). 
  2. Argue with general statements with specific examples. Argue your thesis with 2-3 claims with 1-2 proofs for each claim. 
  3. Transitions, transitions, transitions. For example is not a way to begin a paragraph in a GRE essay. They want topic sentences. 
  4. Write with more certainty. Making up sources will help you sound more certain. Instead of "computer science majors generally do not include ethics requirements" try "A 2014 survey of computer science majors published by MIT reported that less that 5% of computer science programs require an ethics class as part of the curriculum." You will need to write as an authority on a subject about which you are not. At this point, some creative BS really will help you. 
  5. Set the limitations of your essay early. If you establish two parts of the issue you will talk about and do so in depth, you will be given more leniency for not including other possibilities. 

Lastly, if you have time read the Craft of Research. It will make you a better writer and researcher. It probably will help improve your GRE score. 

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@dmueller0711 Thank you so much for the detailed feedback! This was my first time writing a GRE essay. I didn't know you could make up statistics to back up claims – this information is incredibly useful (albeit questionable, given the reason for taking this test in the first place). I've read The Craft of Research before, but never thought about it in terms of the GRE, so I'll revisit it with the exam in mind.

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@nandoswitharando, you're welcome. The Craft of Research, in my opinion, provides the most help in section three of the book "Making A Claim and Supporting It." Since that is exactly what you do with an Issue essay, it is a great resource.

Also, for a pdf copy: http://course.sdu.edu.cn/G2S/eWebEditor/uploadfile/20140306165625006.pdf 

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