This is how you write a college admissions essay: you talk about yourself. You hope that you come across well on paper. You share your experiences—you share what makes you you and you pray to whatever deity of your choice that it makes sense and that the Admissions Committee at the other end likes you enough.
You don’t talk about the things you share in common. You don’t talk about the things you regret saying or doing or quitting too early. You don’t talk about how you were distilled every month into one letter, that you hoped would have just the right amount of strokes and no curves. No, you want—you need—to be unique.
Don’t Write About…
So you don’t talk about the unpleasant things, either. You don’t talk about how you sacrificed all you had for a sport that never gave back. You don’t talk about how your vision narrowed to digitally displayed numbers on a scale, how you wished more than anything in the world that their magnitude would be safely low. You don’t talk about that.
You don’t talk about things like putting off a biology reading and then doing it at 2AM the morning before the test, half conscious, hopeless and fatigued and desperate, committing proteins and nucleotides and enzyme-substrate pairs to memory. You don’t talk about how you wrote and rewrote and rewrote just to tear it all up and start again, how you didn’t even want to start writing because every word written loses its meaning eventually—a ethereal idea trapped in an unimaginative, concrete cage. No. Those things are dangerous, unsavory, taboo. Colleges don’t accept students that talk about those things.
Do Write About…
Instead, you talk about the nice things. You talk about the solidarity you felt while volunteering abroad in a room with 50 other young minds. How you learned what it means to connect to other people when you’re downtrodden, how even though there’s some real stink in human drama, it creates the genuine beauty of empathy—the substance of human connection.
You talk about the first time you read Walden and how it opened your world to a new perspective and meaningful interpretation, how it helped you feel like you are not a blindly struggling speck in a vast and unknowable universe. You talk about how waking up at 5 in the morning and wrestling seven days-a-week and never stopping till you got to the top of the podium, and how it gave you that feeling that maybe every step was all truly worth it.
You talk about how that pathetically procrastinated biology study gives you a secret look into what nature keeps hidden, and how you can envision the very systems inside of the organisms that you view while walking outside. And you talk about how even though you wrote and wrote and wrote and it wasn’t even close to what you really wanted it to turn out like, it just might give the admissions committee a peek into your disorganized and unclear and genuine and honest thoughts, and maybe even inspire them to assign you a number whose magnitude isn’t unfortunately “not good enough.” Because in any case of absolute evaluation, the benefit of the doubt should absolutely be given for the benefit of the evaluated.