College Diaries: Battling the college essay


Hannah O’Leary , senior, shares her input and knowledge about the process of writing college admissions essays.

The beginning of a new school marks a time for growth and learning. As thousands of kids march through the hallways, accompanied by mechanical pencils with their erasers still attached and sparkling white high-top Converse, there is an underlying current of stress among a certain group of students: the seniors. It should be our year, where we reign over the school and assure that this will, indeed, be the best year yet. However, everyone forgot to mention, though, that there is one small thing that most seniors must do before they can coast through their senior year: apply to college.

Oh, yeah, that one small thing. That everyone claims will predict the rest of our lives. So follow me as I navigate the world of college applications, freak out over deadlines and look to my future.

Ah, yes. The infamous college admissions essay. This is by far the meat and bones of the application, for it is the only part of the application where the admissions officer really gets to know your true personality. Wait, what?! You mean that that I have to convey my entire personality into a brief essay of 650 words or less? Why yes, yes I do. This is where every applicant is to convey everything that they have learned about life, love and the pursuit of happiness during their entire life here on Earth. All in roughly 650 words (plus the supplemental essays for each individual school, if there are any.) That’s not daunting at all.

It’s a lot to ask of a high-school senior, in my opinion. As much as I would like to think that I have my life figured out, I just don’t. I’m not entirely sure who I am, but I guess now would be the time to figure that out. All of the adults in my life think that I should have been exploring my personality throughout the entirety of high school, but, to be honest, I was too busy doing homework and joining extracurriculars to do that. It looks like I will be discovering myself on the papers of my college admissions essay. Well, so be it.

When the time comes and I finally muster up the self-control to force myself to sit down and write the essays, nothing comes to me. Chirp, chirp, chirp. Where is some inspiration when I need it? If I could only look at someone’s essay… just to get an idea…

No worries! I’ve found two admissions essays that I think were both successful essays. Both young women were accepted into Ivy League schools with these essays. Not that I’m saying that everyone should be shooting for the Ivy’s, don’t get me wrong, it’s just helpful to see some successful examples.


Example One:


This essay was written by Taylor Reneau, a recent graduate of Harvard College. She wrote this essay about how her upbringing shaped her as a person. I think that this one is a really good example of a seemingly insignificant factor in one’s life can turn into a really powerful essay.


Example Two:


You may have read this more well-known example. This essay, written by Brittany Stinson, tells all about her fascination and obsession with Costco. I think that this is a really good example of how someone might take a specific element about their life and show how it shaped them as a person. Whether you think this is a silly essay or not, I think you must admit that the writing is beautiful.


So now, I’ve looked at examples and have gotten the vibe of what college essays are all about. But, what am I supposed to write about? Well, I’ve gathered some advice from various sources, including but not limited to parents, friends, counselors and random YouTube videos, that tell all about how someone should go about writing their college essay.


Here we go:


  1. Pick a quality about yourself that you want to convey. Then, pick a short scene in your life that clearly conveys that quality and write about it.
  2. Be entertaining. Take risks in your writing and try new approaches to telling stories. Show off your personality.
  3. Open with dialogue. This instantly draws the reader in and asks them to picture the scene, making it more engaging, which is what we want.
  4. Make the reader laugh. If you consider yourself a funny person, use this opportunity to convey that. This is not supposed to be a dry academic essay. Rather, incorporate humor if you can do it in a mature way.
  5. Picture this scenario: if your essay would be picked up by someone who knows you, but it did not have your name on it, would they recognize that the essay is yours? They should. If not, inject your essay with more of your personality.
  6. Do not repeat the question and-or purpose of the essay. The reader knows why you are writing it. Since you have so few words to convey such an important message, cut to the chase right away.
  7. Do not quote someone else. Quotes are often over-used and cliché, so it instantly sets up the essay as boring and unoriginal. This is not always the case, but it is a large majority of the time. The admissions officer wants to hear your voice, not someone else’s.
  8. Trust the admissions officer. Many times, people hold back their true, strong emotions because they do not want to reveal themselves. Trust the reader and allow them to see different sides of you, your personality and your emotions.
  9. Do not create a resumé. This is an opportunity for you to show why you do what you do and how you see the world.They already have you application; it’s time to show them the inside of your mind.
  10. Do not just describe an event. Explain the significance of things, not just that they happened. Explicitly state why and how things changed you into the person that you are today. Costa’s level three, people.
  11. Great essay does not mean great admissions essay. Just because you wrote a fantastic essay does not mean that you should submit it. Just because the writing is beautiful does not necessarily mean that it is an appropriate admissions essay or that it fits with any of the prompts.
  12. Allow everyone to edit your essay. If you are anything like me, you hate allowing people to read your writing (which is funny, because I’m publishing this blog on the internet.) However, you must allow people to help you. Ask others if you are clearly conveying your ideas, and if your essay sounds like you. Their input can be very valuable.


Okay, so I’ve looked at some successful examples, and I have researched what seems to make a good essay. Now, it is finally time to sit down and write for real. It’s pretty hard. Since the deadline is so far in the future, I feel little to no pressure to get anything accomplished. I am the type of person who thrives while working under pressure. Therefore, I am far from thriving in this situation. Not going to lie, I’m currently using this blog post as an excuse not to write my essay. Sometimes, it even gets so bad that I’ll actually do my regular homework as a way to get out of writing it.

I have found one system that seems to work for me though. I need to be laying in my bed with my laptop on my lap. Then, I put on a playlist of all different sorts of music. From folk to rap to house, my Spotify playlist has got is all. I guess I just like writing to songs that I am familiar with, but don’t know well enough to sing along to. Lastly, I just let the words flow out of me.

I never stop writing to think about the structure of my sentences or to correct a grammar mistake. That will all come in the lengthy editing process. I just let the words flow out of my mind like rain onto pavement. Let the ideas come and the structure will follow. Primarily, though, just try not to censor yourself. Good luck and godspeed with the mountain of essays that lie before us.