Life Changing Decisions in 500 words or less
BY ROBERT CELLUCCI ON SEPTEMBER 20TH 2013
Photo by Alice Reed
College application essays, the procrastinating, promptly infuriating, living purgatory just before college. The dreaded part of our college applications where we have to give the reader a window into who we are. In 500 words or less… So who are you?
This is going to be the real direct contact you have with the admissions office. This is going to matter. If you don’t write these essays well, it could be the difference between one school or another. We want to look good so badly that we feel like we have to tell the admissions people about that time we saved that puppy in the second grade. This is a big deal.
The Common Application essays for the first writing topic.
“Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.”
What does that mean? What inspirational story can we tell that hasn’t been told before? How can we present ourselves in way that inspires? That intrigues? That makes the people at the admissions office see the highest compliment they can give to us, which is to see a younger version of themselves?
Looking at Chapel Hill essays for contrast, The first writing topic for the Chapel Hill essays,
“You just put a message in a bottle and threw the bottle out to sea. What is the message?”
… What? I assume this “ Writer’s prompt” is to try and make us think creatively but honestly it has only put me at a standstill, or at least slightly more of a stand still than my writer’s block brought on from the pressure of essay one from the Common Application. Can’t someone make these topics so they’re vague and creative for inspiring students but still have some form of structure? It would just relieve some of the enormous pressure put on us by this whole process.
The biggest problem students in general and myself in particular have with writing these essays is that I think I’m more than a few pages. And it’s difficult to get that across with the box that this process puts students in. I think we seem to be objectified, and not really heard through all the white noise. I mean objectivity is something people strive for and it’s important, but it’s overrated. No one’s completely objective and no one should be. You should try to connect to people and ideas. Otherwise what’s the point of living? Students are put in this box for this process and it’s really hard to break out of the norm, unless you somehow get the reader to identify with who you are. Most of us have the problem of not even knowing who we are, let alone how to show it in a few pages, to a total stranger. Eventually after painstakingly staring at the cursor flashing on my blank word document for several hours, I realized the admissions office knows that. It doesn't matter what you write about because they’re trying to take you out of the box. They’re trying to find students full of interest for anything. Whether that be from hairdressing to a PhD in psychology. So just be honest and write because it’s not your writing that makes you who you are, it’s the story you're telling.