How to Write a College Application Essay

Hi, senior. First of all, if you’re reading this, you’re doing it all wrong. You probably haven’t started on the you-know-what’s, and you’re probably assuming that this column will help you. I am not an advice columnist, and these 400 words will not give you the tips you’ll need to get into an Ivy League college. So stop reading right now if it matters to you that much.

I’ve about had it with all the “personal statement workshops” and “essay coaches.” I might blow up (or throw up) if another person updates me on his or her Stanford supplement topic or Common Application essay theme. I really don’t care. But if you’d like, tell me about your weekend.

Tell me about visits to Chinatown or the beach. Tell me about a book you finished on Sunday, when you could have been studying for the test you bombed Monday morning. Tell me about the epiphany you had about gentrification, globalization, music, poetry, and the meaning of love. Tell me about anything except college. We all know that’s on our minds. But why live right now for next year?

You say, “Why so critical?! Don’t you do it too?” And my answer is: yes, in fact I do. I’m also guilty of sitting at my desk, spending hours shaping and reshaping my college application essays like a potter at a wheel with a whole block of clay. Yes, let’s call this clay “inspiration”. By the time it’s been molded and remolded by your hands, it will be cracked and dry. But maybe you’ll have a good pot by then.

So I agree that you should not start with statistics and work from there. That is not my advice to you (since when was I an advice columnist?). Your essay would be terrible. But true inspiration – the type that comes privately and makes you feel like something special – shouldn’t be immediately transformed or perfectly packaged into an essay marketing your strengths and talents before you’ve had a time to soak it all in. That’s robbing yourself, I think.

So the advice here: start by making a painting, drawing, poem, or story. Preserve yourself first. Maybe, spend a day just feeling blessed. Smile a little wider, walk a little lighter, and treat yourself a little bit better. Then sit down at your wheel – fine, your desk – and push and pull and manipulate that chunk of clay until you’ve got a spankin’ essay.

But then again, those deadlines are coming up, so maybe you don’t have enough time to go through that whole long process. Oh man, oh man. Lots of luck being sent your way.