Writing a College Essay

Photograph by Zachary Fujita ('18).

Time seems to stand still as you stare blankly at the empty white page on the screen of your computer.

You sit in silence, searching, scouring your brain for a topic to write about. This essay has to be perfect. It can’t be boring, it can’t be superficial, and it definitely can’t be cliché. The cursor continues to blink as another hour passes. Although you realize the importance of this paper, any worthwhile ideas seem to elude you. Eventually you give up and decide to take a break, hoping that maybe you’ll come up with something to write about tomorrow.

This is the beginning of the college essay writing process, and if you’re a senior like me, you’ll find this scenario all too familiar. To many, writing a college essay is an arduous journey filled with stress, pressure, and hours of brainstorming. While many may not find the journey to be an enjoyable one, it is a necessary step in the college application process, as the majority of schools view the essay as an important deciding factor. Although I’m not a college counselor, I’ve learned enough from the experience to offer some insight to those of you in the process of writing a college essay. Here are a few of my opinions and tips concerning the matter:

CHOOSING A TOPIC

During the brainstorming process of the college essay, one issue that I struggled with more than anything else was the roadblock of choosing a topic. My main problem was believing that nothing interesting has ever happened in my life, and I can say that some of my classmates have been in similar predicaments. I’m not a particularly adventurous person, and I can’t reference any particular, defining experience that completely changed my life. When others may have been on Mission trips to Third World Countries, I was attending summer school. However, while I was struggling to think of a profound memory to write about, I came to the realization that my essay didn’t have to be about a watershed moment in my life. The reason the Common Application has various essay prompts to choose from is because the college essay doesn’t have an ideal essay topic that you are required to follow.

To some, this may just be common sense. A decent writer can turn even everyday, mundane actions into captivating tales. You don’t need to write about an extraordinary event to write an extraordinary paper. An essay’s content is just as important as the topic, and even the greatest stories can fall flat with a poor execution. This year, the Common App gives students the option to literally write about anything they want to, providing students with a greater freedom to express themselves. In the end, I decided not to force myself into writing about a big moment, which would undoubtedly have been over-exaggerated. Instead, I chose to write about a topic I was actually passionate about: Engineering. This made the writing process a lot easier and it made my writing a lot more personal, which is a quality that colleges look for.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT WORDS

Another issue I have with the college essay is with the idea that students should restrain themselves from using “big words”. Teachers often instruct students to be themselves, reprimanding any who use Membean-esque words in their papers. It is true that utilizing unfamiliar vocabulary in a paper sometimes results in words seeming out of place. However, although it’s considered inappropriate, one can’t help but feel inclined towards using a more scholarly vocabulary when writing. In my opinion, this problem stems from the constant pressure of believing that the college essay needs to be absolutely perfect. One grammar error or awkward sentence and your chances of getting into that dream college can seemingly vanish. Good word choice is an essential part of a quality essay, and I personally feel that students shouldn’t feel ashamed of typing their essays with a thesaurus open on the side so long as the new words they choose are not too obscure. In writing, people who restrain themselves from fully expressing their thoughts risk not achieving their full potential and creating the best essay possible.

MAKE THE MOST OF IT

Despite all of these reservations I may have, I am not in any way opposed to the concept of college essays. With colleges receiving thousands of applications each year, it is virtually impossible for them to get the opportunity to meet with a fraction of the applicants in person. College essays are a great way for admissions officers to get a quick glimpse who each applicant is. Until a new, more efficient method of familiarizing oneself with applicants emerges, college essays will remain the ideal way to learn about applying students.

Additionally, I feel like there is a lot to gain from simply writing a college essay. A main facet of the process is self-reflection. Looking back on your life and remembering your accomplishments, interests, and culture can be beneficial. Through writing the college essay, I learned unexpectedly learned a lot about myself. Although the essay was painful to write at times, I feel that it helped me get a better picture of the qualities that defined who I was and the things that made me into who I am today.

One thing’s for certain: whether you like it or not, the college essay will always be there. Because it’s unavoidable for students planning on attending college, I believe that all students should try their best, not only to show colleges what they’re capable of, but also to gain insight into who they are themselves.

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