One of the first lessons that I give to my writing students is to eradicate the use of the second person pronoun (aka “you”) in their essays. When they ask why, I usually answer their questions by adding a “Who, me?” each time I see the second person on their papers. They quickly realize that they are not addressing me but are speaking about people in general. Then I explain the condition for proper use of this person: addressing a person or a group. So, certainly, using “you” in either personal or business letters (Does anyone actually write this anymore?) or email is not only acceptable, but preferable. In addition, when addressing a group in a speech or a process (how-to) essay, this pronoun connects the speaker directly to the audience.
However, these are not the conditions for most essays, which tend to be expository. These essay types call for different pronouns that offer a more objective point of view. For example, when composing an analytical piece, the best choices would be third person pronouns. These include many options, from personal pronouns like he, she, it, they, them, to indefinite pronouns like someone, anyone, everyone, and a host of others. If someone is developing a personal essay, then the most obvious choice is first person: I, me, we, us, etc. Keep second person out of entrance exam essays. Opt for third person. College application essays tend to be personal, so use first person for them.
I admit to being somewhat sensitive to the use of the mother tongue, so I often notice that many people of all ages tend to employ the second person in their speech as well. For example, here is an excerpt from a conversation I overheard in a coffee shop recently. It was an informal chat between friends. (The names are fictitious,)
Midge: “You can’t find a job for nothing these days.” (???)
Madge: “Yea, you look in the Help Wanted ads, and they, like, want experience. But how can you get experience if you can’t find a job?”
Midge: ”Yea, sometimes you, like, have to resign yourself to live with your parents after college.”
YOU get the idea, right? These two people were not “owning” their problem. They were talking about themselves in the second person, as if they were addressing the other person, but they weren’t. They were talking about themselves. This is when that first person pronoun is appropriate. Use I, me, my, mine in these situations. The general “rule of thumb”: It’s no You’s!
The constant use of “like” as a necessary interjection in speech is another pet peeve of mine, but that’s material for another day.