The College Essay Blues

September 15, 2010
By Anonymous

I have been fretting about my college essay. I am worried that it will decide my future. Everyone tells me that’s not true. Even books (especially books) tell me that’s not true. I can’t make myself believe them.
I am worried about “putting myself down on paper” as all those books have been telling me to do. I am not Flat Stanley, I am not a word. I cannot be pasted to an 8.5x11 sheet of paper and forgotten. It doesn’t work that way.

I don’t know how I’m going to capture my “essence” on paper. How can I write down my complete inability to part my hair straight? How do I capture my favorite song – “Perdóname” – which I love for reasons even I don’t understand? I don’t think I can write down my memories of my gypsy-themed sixth birthday, or my excitement and apprehension at moving after eleven years in the same tan-and-red house.

I am not sure how to begin to describe my inordinate delight at choosing a “Word of the Day” for junior English classes. I can’t explain my collection of papier-mâché “Día de los Muertos” skulls. I’ll never figure out how to chronicle my late-night baking adventures.

Colleges are asking too much, perhaps, when they tell us to sum up our lives (however short; sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen is a lifetime to us – literally!) in a clear and concise 350-500 word essay. How can we be clear and concise about our teenage-selves, which are tumbling around in our heads like clothes in a washing machine on the fritz?

Am I supposed to describe my tendency to drink Diet Coke in excess, or the “Feliz Cumpleaños” banner that’s still hanging in my room from my sixteenth birthday? Should I try to write down the utter joy I feel at composing a simple German sentence? Am I allowed to fess up to my gossip magazine addiction?

More likely, colleges want a laundry list of my achievements. They want to hear that I’m an editor on the yearbook staff, that I’ve won a national writing award. They want to hear about my summer spent volunteering in rural Nicaragua, about my language skills and how they’ve won me competitions. They want to hear that I’m the VP of the Gay-Straight Alliance and historian of the German club, that I’m a member of both the NHS and the Spanish NHS. That’s all fine and good, except it’s not really what I want to tell them.

I want to tell them that I can’t be summed up in 500 words, much less 350. The fedora collection, the USPS flat-rate box infatuation, the typewriter, the giant pink bear from eighth grade…none of it can be explained away in 12pt Times New Roman. I am not an essay, as much as I would like to be. I am a person, for better or worse, faults and all. I am a life-loving, eye-crossing, picture-taking, overly-sensitive soul who paints her toenails neon colors. I am not 350 words, nor 500. I’m me, acceptance letter or not.

The author's comments:
This was not initially intended to be a college essay - it was a rant against why I hate college essays...and then my friends told me that it was perfect for an essay. Go figure.

Similar Articles


This article has 1 comment.

Lauryn said...
on Oct. 23 2010 at 4:13 pm
I feel like this essay could go either way for you...It's interesting and good that you got everything you wanted to say in there, HOWEVER, when you started mentioning the laundry list, and then said, "That's not really what I want to tell them," I'm torn. For me personally, it seems blatantly obvious that that is EXACTLY what you wanted to tell them, because you put it in there anyways. I think that you should maybe try to make it a little more subtle, because you definitely have a lot of great accomplishments, and it would be a shame to leave them out; I just feel like it might be a little too transparent as to what you're trying to do. Overall though, I thought it was really good! I liked all the personal details you put in, and I think they can really get a sense of your personality from it. Good work! :)


MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!